1800s Classics Mystery Short Story

The Turn of the Screw – Henry James

I decided to read The Turn of the Screw after I heard Audrey Niffenegger describe it as her favourite book. Halloween also seemed the perfect time of year to read this classic, spooky story.

The book is set in an Essex country home and describes the life of a governess who is charged with looking after two children. She becomes increasingly disturbed by glimpses of strange ghostly figures and begins to suspect that the children may have something to do with them.

I’m afraid that I don’t share Niffenegger’s passion for this book. I found it very hard to read – the writing style meant it required a great deal of concentration and I had to continually re-read sections to understand exactly what was happening. His overuse of commas meant that the writing had an irritating, jumpy feel to it.

The large impressive room, one of the best in the house, the great state bed, as I almost felt it, the figured full draperies, the long glasses in which for the first time, I could see myself from head to foot, all struck me – like the wonderful appeal of my first small charge – as so many things thrown in.

The complexity of the writing and the fact that the book is written from the viewpoint of a narrator who wasn’t present as events took place meant that I failed to connect with the characters. I was so distanced from events that I didn’t find it remotely scary.

I loved the ambiguity of the plot and in hindsight I can appreciate the cleverness of it, but I much prefer it when modern writers take aspects of this book and re-write them from a modern perspective.

I am really pleased that I read it, but it felt more like a chore than entertainment at the time.


Did you enjoy The Turn of the Screw?

1930s Classics Mystery

Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier


Rebecca is a book which everyone seems to rave about. The brooding, Gothic mystery sounded like the sort of thing I would love. I hoped that it would become one of my favourites, but although I enjoyed reading it, Rebecca won’t make it into my top 50.

The book begins with a young woman falling in love with Maxim de Winter, but after a hasty marriage she realises that everything she does is compared to Rebecca, Maxim’s seemingly perfect first wife, who died in tragic circumstances a year earlier

It was slow to start, but after about 100 pages I was completely hooked. I loved the first glimpses of Manderley and the vivid descriptions of the house and grounds.

Yes, there it was, the Manderley I had expected, the Manderley of my picture post-card long ago. A thing of grace and beauty, exquisite and faultless, lovelier even than I had ever dreamed, built in its hollow of smooth grassland and mossy lawns, the terraces sloping to the gardens, and the gardens to the sea.

The girl’s jealousy and feelings of inadequacy where incredibly well written, but I was disappointed by the mystery aspect of the book. Although I was vaguely aware that Rebecca’s death might not have been accidental, this wasn’t confirmed until Maxim admitted the murder. I felt that this was too quick – the mystery was solved the moment it was created and I felt let down that I hadn’t had at least a few chapters to try to solve the crime myself.

There were some amazing characters in this book. I loved the way that even the side characters were fully formed. Mrs Danvers was a deliciously dark character and I would love to know more about her.

I thought the book went downhill quickly once we knew Rebecca had been murdered. All the emotion seemed to disappear, replaced with an average police investigation. Did you enjoy this part of the book? I haven’t seen it mentioned before, so am wondering if people just forget that almost half of the book was reasonably dull.

The last page of the book was fantastic. I love the ambiguous ending and the  destruction of Manderley. Do you think all the staff were killed in the fire? Do you think it was started deliberately?

Overall, this book had some amazing sections, but overall I was slightly disappointed. I think this book will grow on me, as over time I will remember the emotional aspects of the book, but slowly forget about the dull half. I would still recommend this to everyone, but I think there are a lot of better ones out there.


Thank you to Sandy for arranging the readalong for this book.

Do you think Rebecca is one of the best books ever written?

Were you disappointed by any sections?

2009 Chunkster Historical Fiction Mystery Recommended books

Stone’s Fall – Iain Pears

Let me start by saying that this is my favourite book of 2009 so far – I was completely unprepared for how much I would love this book.

The premise is quite simple: Why did John Stone die, falling out of a window at his London home? The story is a complex mystery, beginning in London in 1909 and gradually revealing the truth by going back in time – first to Paris in 1890, and finally to Venice in 1867.

The book is cleverly constructed so that in the first section John Stone has just died and all the information about him is vague and contradictory. In the second section he becomes a character, so we begin to build a better picture of him and in the final section he is the narrator, so we finally find out the truth about his fascinating life.

I did not want power or wealth for themselves, and did not in the slightest desire fame. But I wanted, on my death, to be able to expire feeling that my existence had made the world a different place.

This is a literary mystery, so the pace is quite slow and at nearly 600 pages it isn’t a quick read, but the length was necessary to create the vivid world and fully formed characters. The astonishing twists were reminiscent of Fingersmith and I am sure I will remember this book for a very long time.

The espionage and financial aspects of the book meant that I thought it would appeal to men more than women, but while I think this is probably true, I am a woman and it is my book of the year! I admit that there were a few sections where the financial implications of events went over my head, but I was quickly brought back to the gripping plot by another development.

This book has everything – a multi-layered complex plot, fantastic characters and a compelling mystery.

Highly recommended to lovers of suspenseful literary fiction.



I haven’t read anything by Iain Pears before, but after the success of this one I am definitely going to track down all his books.

Have you read anything by Iain Pears?

Which of his books is your favourite?


2000 - 2007 Mystery Richard and Judy Book Club

The House at Riverton – Kate Morton

The House at Riverton is a grand English manor house and as you’d expect it is packed with secrets. The construction of the house took place a long ago, the place was full of trees so the family had to contact Legacy Land & Timber to get rid of them. The story is told through the eyes of 98-year-old Grace, a former housemaid of Riverton Manor. She is contacted by a researcher who is creating a film about the suicide of a famous poet, which occurred during the time of her employment at the manor. The truth about what really occurred 80 years ago is slowly revealed in this Gothic style mystery.

The book started off well and I quickly became attached to Grace’s character, but I found Hannah and Emmeline, the children who lived in Riverton Manor, lacking in that special spark. Many of the other characters in the book also felt a bit flat and overly stereotyped.

The writing is light and easy to read, reminding me of The Thirteenth Tale, but it lacked period atmosphere and I found myself losing interest towards the middle. I felt that it could have benefited from losing at least 200 of it’s 600 pages.

It was cleverly plotted, the secrets being revealed slowly and deliberately throughout the book, and the ending was wonderful – I didn’t see it coming at all.

Overall I found it to be an entertaining, but slightly long-winded mystery. Recommended for fans of Gothic mystery with a lot spare time on their hands!



Kate Morton has just released a new book: The Forgotten Garden.

Have you read either of her books? Which is best?

2008 2009 Mystery Thriller

Bleeding Heart Square – Andrew Taylor

Winner of the Cartier Diamond Dagger 2009

I really enjoyed The American Boy, which was a Richard and Judy choice a few years ago, so was interested to see what Andrew Taylor’s latest book would be like. I don’t think Bleeding Heart Square is quite as good as The American Boy, but it gets quite close.

Bleeding Heart Square
is set in London, just before the WWII. The central character is Lydia Langstone – she flees her abusive husband to live with her elderly father in Bleeding Heart Square. Soon the landlord starts to receive foul smelling hearts in the post, and Lydia sets out to investigate whether there is a link between the horrible parcels and the landlord’s missing lover, Miss Penhow.

Period atmosphere is present throughout, and the book is very well researched, but I found it slow in several sections. The begining and end were perfectly written, but there were many points in the middle sections where my mind started wondering. I loved Lydia, but found many of the side characters blended in to one another, as they weren’t vivid enough to picture as individuals.

The mystery was cleverly written, but I did guess the twist in the end, which is perhaps why I am scoring this book a bit lower than I otherwise would.

It is a nice, light thriller though, so may be worth picking up if you’re looking for something with a bit of Gothic atmosphere.



Andrew Taylor is highly thought of in the crime writing world, and has won the CWA John Creasey Award, an Edgar Scroll and two CWA Ellis Peters Historical Daggers. I was surprised to learn that he has written more than 25 books.

Have you read any of his books? Which one is your favourite?

2009 Mystery Richard and Judy Book Club

Mr Toppit – Charles Elton

The synopsis for Mr Toppit sounds really interesting. The idea is that the author of The Hayseed Chronicles, a series of children’s books has died, and after his death his family discover secrets buried within the books. Unfortunately the book didn’t live up to my expectations.

It started off reasonably well, and had a few interesting sections, but there were many points where I became bored. The characters failed to engage me, and it lacked the atmosphere required for a book supposedly full of dark secrets – the setting was too modern and normal, so any attempts to portray mystery and fear just came across as a bit silly. I nearly gave up at one point, but then the plot picked up again so I made it to the end. In many ways I wish that I hadn’t, as the ending was disappointing. The ‘dark secret’ was very normal and I felt a bit let down.

The few brief appearances of Mr Toppit were really good, and I wish that the book had concentrated on the Hayseed Chronicles instead of the family. If you are looking for a dark mystery, then I recommend The Thirteenth Tale, The Little Stranger or The Seance  instead. 

Charles Elton is clearly a talented author, and I would read other books written by him in the future, but this one just didn’t capture my imagination. I hope he write the Hayseed Chronicles one day, as I’d read them!



Have you read any of the other Richard and Judy Summer reads this year?