Tuesday 16 April 2024

Read in 2024 - 7: Bedford Square

Bedford Square (An Inspector Pitt Novel)

Anne Perry

When I came across my first novel by Anne Perry, featuring Inspector Pitt and his wife Charlotte and set in Victorian London, I liked everything about it - the setting, the characters, the language, how the story was constructed and the case solved.

Since then, I have read a few more books from the series, in no particular order. When not long ago I found a pile of paperbacks at the book stall of Ludwigsburg's Town Church, four out of the eight books I bought for 1 € each were by Anne Perry, and this one was the first from the pile I finished.

I enjoyed the book very much - again, it all came together for me: Likeable, plausible characters, a well-researched and complex setting, an equally complex case and a solution I found satisfactory, as well as beautiful language throughout.

The case starts with a dead man found on the steps to a respectable house on Bedford Square, London. At first glance, nothing links the victim (who was clearly from a different, much lower class) to the owner of the house - nothing except a snuff box found in his pocket. A burglary gone wrong? 

Then, anonymous letters begin to arrive not only at the house on Bedford Square, but other wealthy or otherwise influential men receive them, too. Nothing is asked from them, but the accusations are vicious and, although not true, impossible to disprove - each of the men and their families would end up ruined in the eyes of society if the accusations were made known.

Who is behind the letters, what does the sender actually want, and where does the dead man fit in? 

Another man dies before Inspector Pitt - of course greatly helped by his constable, his wife, their maid and the formidable Great-Aunt Vespasia - cracks the case. For me, the solution was impossible to guess, although I had certain suspicions along the way that proved to be true. 

Much of the charm of these mysteries lies in the Victorian setting; every time it makes me glad that I live today and not back then, when class was everything and formalities hemmed people in on all sides. Another big plus for me is that there is no focus on gruesome detail other than what is absolutely necessary to understand what happened. Instead, it is all about solving a complex puzzle.

Apparently, the series (or parts of it?) have been adapted for TV - I have yet to find out more about this. In any case, I am looking forward to the other three Inspector Pitt novels on my to-be-read pile.

PS: You can find two more reviews of Anne Perry's books on my blog by typing her name in the search box in the upper left corner. I have just looked at them and found that I have been somewhat disappointed by one that I had read in 2011.

From wikipedia, I only just now found out that Anne Perry died a year ago.

Thursday 11 April 2024

First April Week

Another short working week, with Easter Monday being a holiday, and seeing the hottest day of the year so far.

Easter Monday (1 April) saw us getting up relatively early so that we'd be in time for church; the village band traditionally provide the music for the family service that day. At 10C/50F, it was chilly. It was also wet and windy but cleared up late afternoon, allowing for an hour-long walk around the village before dropping in with O.K.'s Mum for a bit.

On Tuesday (2 April), just like the previous week I took the trains I normally take on a Monday morning to get home, and was at my desk at the usual time. I was very tired, had a bit of a headache and felt queasy in the morning. Resting on my bed for half an hour during my lunch break helped a lot, and so did the after-work walk to Benningen through the beautiful spring late afternoon and early evening, including a pale rainbow at the start that I just about managed to see before it vanished, and the first apple blossoms.

Click to enlarge and spot the rainbow!

Almost at vanishing point, if you look carefully, you can still see the rainbow.

apple blossoms

A chilly and rainy day followed on Wednesday (3 April), just right for working at the office all day. At 6:00 pm, my sister and I met at our Mum's for a delicious meal of home-made vegetable soup and freshly baked mini naans. My sister had been to the south of France over Easter to visit our relatives there, and told us of her trip and how everyone is.

It was milder but still rather windy on Thursday (4 April) with a mix of rain, sun and clouds. After work, I walked for about 1.5 hours in a part of town I'd not been to in a while.

sunrise on that Thursday morning

It is always interesting to find yet another spot from where the giant ferris wheel is visible.

Sometimes I direct my walks to places that I knew well in the past, such as the street where my piano teacher used to live and where I went for lessons once a week in my mid-teens. The family name is still on the mailbox, and the house has the same, slightly neglected "bohemian" feel it had back then.

Friday (5 April) was considerably warmer at 23C/73F, and I took advantage of it by leaving my windows wide open all day. I am not sure how much the beautiful spring day had to do with it, but I felt like I was "back" and properly "me" again for the first time in weeks, my energy and ability to focus returning.

The day consisted of the usual succession of work, cleaning and packing my little red suitcase until it was time to walk to the train station. Both trains were on time. When O.K. picked me up in Offenburg, we first stopped briefly with a couple of friends before driving to the village. It made for a late supper at the cottage at 10:00 pm.

The next day, Saturday (6 April), came with record-breaking temperatures and wall to wall sunshine: We had about 28C/82F, but the nearby village of Ohlsbach was later given as the warmest place in our part of Germany that day at 30C/86F. It is not so unusual to have warm days in April, but this kind of temperature was much higher than average.

We spent it working around the house and garden of O.K.'s parents. I scratched the moss of a set of stone steps leading up to the patio; while the mossy stones look nicer than the naked concrete, it also made the steps slippery when wet, and dangerous for O.K.'s Mum who will be 84 in August.

I don't mind physical work at all - it allows the mind to wander and gives a sort of satisfaction rarely felt with the abstract stuff I do for a living. But I must admit that the backs of my legs and some other body parts are not used to kneeling and crouching for hours, and every now and then I had to get up and stretch a little. Sore muscles were with me for a few days afterwards, but that's alright.

O.K.'s sister suggested a BBQ at her place that evening, which was much appreciated, since it allowed us to work longer and save time otherwise spent on preparing a meal ourselves. It was still warm enough to sit out in their garden all evening - a pleasant end to a real summer day.

It was "White Sunday" on Sunday (7 April), the name given to the Sunday of the First Communion for Roman Catholic children in Germany. Since O.K.'s village is predominantly Catholic, it is an important day there, with the village band playing for the children and their families on the square in front of the church after the service. 

The warm, sunny weather made for a good turn-out, and it was nice to observe the crowd in their festive clothes. 

Back home, we changed into walking outfits (it was warm enough for me to wear my hiking shorts and a short-sleeved top!), got into the car and drove about half an hour to the village of Nordrach. From there, we walked one of the many tours suggested in a booklet I keep at the cottage. 

Amazingly, in spite of the good weather, we walked most of the tour entirely on our own, the only sounds being birdsong, a murmuring beck running along the path and our conversation - beautiful, and just what I needed.

pear blossoms

Along the way, boards informed about various fruit trees cultivated in the area, such as this pear tree.

Who would not want to have a little rest with such a view?

Baking houses are typical outbuildings at the larger farms here, and this one was open, selling home-made schnaps and other products from the farm.

typical Black Forest farm house

Old stable in Nordrach

Nordrach church inside...

...and out. It is nowhere near as old as it looks; what you see was built in the Neo-Gothic style in 1904/05.
It was neither a strenuous nor particularly long walk, just over 10 km I think, but perfect after the previous day's physical work. Back at the cottage, O.K. fixed us our favourite drink for a summerly evening (Apérol Spritz), and we took one up to the patio for his Mum as well.

For our evening meal, we grilled the rest of the meat and Merguez sausages left over from Saturday.

A busy (as usual) but good week altogether.

Friday 5 April 2024

Easter Week

In Germany, Good Friday and Easter Monday are holidays, giving the majority of working people a nice long weekend. It doesn't matter so much to me that it was shortened by an hour due to the entirely superfluous changing of the clocks to summertime - the only personal advantage I can see is that it pushes sunset back to around 8:00 pm, giving me the opportunity of long walks after work.

As mentioned in my next-to-last post, we had arrived at O.K.'s on Sunday early afternoon. We both had Monday (25 March) off for his father's funeral which was scheduled for 2:00 pm. It was a strange sort of day with the beautiful sunshine not at all matching our mood - I remember it was also sunny (and unseasonably warm) at my Dad's funeral in November 2022.

The chapel at the village cemetery was packed - H.K. had married a local girl, moved to the village as a young man, started a family and was involved in the village band for decades. The speaker was a young woman who did really well, with only one little mishap when she recounted H.'s life and dated his wedding just one year after his birth (instead of 21 years). The music was moving and well chosen by the family. I felt unable to sing and merely read silently along with the lyrics.

We then stood in the sun by the grave where O.K.'s middle sister was put to rest 9 years ago, watching an offical lowering H.'s urn into the prepared hole in the ground. Handfuls of rose petals followed, then the five of us (O.K. and his Mum, his sister and her husband, and myself) quietly left and walked the short distance from the cemetery to the house.

It was so warm that we were able to sit out on the patio for coffee and cake. When the wind rose, we went inside where we sat and talked until it was time to drive the short distance to a nearby village where we had booked a table for dinner. The food was good and the service friendly; we managed the odd laugh but of course you can imagine that we weren't exactly partying. It was just good to be together.

Back home, we were so exhausted we could hardly keep our eyes open, and I was in bed just after 9:00.

Tuesday (26 March) saw me taking the trains I usually take on Monday mornings to get home. It was very cold at first, but with the sun the day warmed up to 18C/64F in the afternoon. With the aftermath of H.'s recent death and funeral, I found it hard to concentrate on work and admittedly only did what I deemed absolutely necessary; as early as 4:00 pm, I went into town to buy Easter chocolates for the family. A 2 hour walk on the fields helped to clear my head and restore my equilibrium.

The weather was completely different on Wednesday (27 March): Cold, wet, windy, nasty. The local trains I took to the office and back were overcrowded, some having been canceled, and everything was quite chaotic with unclear announcements (or none at all) as to changes of platforms and so on. Otherwise, a totally uneventful day, but quite productive work-wise.

It was even colder on Thursday (28 March): Only 2C/35F in the morning, not much above freezing. Good job I didn't need to hang around at train stations but worked from home.

Lunch break was very pleasantly spent at the house of a friend from my volunteer group; we exchange books every now and then (she lends me the Richard Osman novels I so enjoy), and never run out of topics to talk about. Andrea is a kind-hearted, highly intelligent, witty woman and excellent company.

The Thursday before Easter is called Gr√ľndonnerstag (literally "green Thursday") in German, and in our area, it is traditional to make and eat Maultaschen. You can read about them in English on wikipedia. Of course, nobody makes them as good as my Mum, and our family tradition is to gather for a meal of Maultaschen and spuds salad (you can find my parents' recipe on my blog) that day. This year, my sister was away to visit our cousins in France (their mother, our aunt, had died recently), and so it was my Mum, her friend R and R's brother as well as me at the table. As expected, the food was great and the company good.

I was glad not having to work on Friday (29 March). It was warmer again at 16C/60F but very unsettled, with almost hourly changes from sun to rain to sun and back to rain again. Because of that, I only dared a short walk of about an hour. 

Just after 5:00 pm, I walked into town where my Mum, friend R and I attended a church concert: The "Lukas Passion" by Georg Philip Telemann, first performed in 1744. Passions are concerts, usually with a choir and small orchestra, based on the Bible's description of the events around Jesus' death. Of course most people are familiar with Bach's passions; you can read about them on wikipedia, if you are interested. Telemann's one based on Luke's rendition of the story is little known and rarely performed.

Our city church has a very good choir, and the performance was made even better by the three guest solists (Soprano, Tenor and Bass). The instruments were as close to the original as possible, and virtuously played.

I was not the only one to be moved to tears more than once during the concert. The ticket was a wonderful gift from my Mum.

Saturday (30 March) saw me on three different but all equally overcrowded trains to Offenburg, spending good part of the trip standing. But I arrived with only a short delay around lunch time, perfect for eating the Maultaschen my Mum had given me on Thursday. 

After a brief rest, O.K. and I spent much of the afternoon in the kitchen making a large pot of goulash.

Easter Sunday (31 March) was what we had made the goulash for: We hosted the family meal on what was a beautiful sunny and mild day. It still takes some getting used to there now being five instead of six of us at the table, just like it still feels odd when there are just my Mum, my sister and I, and no Dad.

After the meal, we walked to the cemetery together and looked at the beautiful flowers and wreaths on H.'s and M.'s grave. Back at the cottage, we had coffee and cake together before our guests went home.

O.K. and I were over at his Mum's later in the evening, reading through all the cards and letters people had sent after learning about H.'s death.

It was a strange week, with only three working days and yet I felt utterly shattered at its end. There were wonderful moments, such as at the concert, but also great sadness. Life has a way to be VERY intense at times, doesn't it.

Thursday 4 April 2024

Read in 2024 - 6: In Dark Water

In Dark Water
Lynne McEwan
DI Shona Oliver Crime Thriller # 1

Detective Inspector Shona Oliver and her family have relocated only recently to Dumfries in Scotland, where she grew up. For reasons to do with her and her husband’s careers as well as to provide a more secure environment for their teenage daughter, they have given up their busy lives in London. While Shona’s husband seems perfectly happy to run a B&B from their new home, and Shona herself adapts to life far from the big city mainly by being involved with the local lifeboat team, their daugther finds it hard to adjust – on top of being in the middle of puberty, she is also the odd one out at her new school.
When the lifeboat team are called out to recover the body of a young woman, it soon becomes clear that this is not a straightforward case of suicide or a simple accident.
While some influential people don’t think the police should waste time investigating the death of a young drug addict and prostitute, Shona knows she won’t let go until she uncovers the truth behind the suspicious death.
More is to follow, with the team having to investigate largely under the official radar and having to delve deep into the world of illegal immigrants, organised crime and corruption within the police force.
Political and personal implications make things harder, with Shona’s own family coming under threat and facing real danger.
And what does stolen baby milk has to do with it all?

It was a realistic-sounding and complex case, and had its share of gruesome detail without overdoing those details unnecessarily.
 The description of the actual police work, how the team went about their investigation, was well done.
Also, I could to an extent relate to the main characters but have to admit I did not entirely warm to them.
Maybe what I enjoyed most about the book was the setting of rough coastal beauty, descriptions of sunsets and landscape.
Of course, with it being the first in a series about DI Shona Oliver (as is so often the case, a freebie at Amazon's Kindle shop), it is clear from the start that she is going to survive no matter what.
It wasn't a bad read at all, but I doubt I will be actively looking for more.

The author was unknown to me; she does not seem to have her own website, but goodreads.com say this about her: "Glasgow-born Lynne McEwan is a former national newspaper photographer turned crime author. She's covered stories including the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the first Gulf War in addition to many high profile murder cases. She currently lives in Lincoln and is in the final year of an MA in Crime Fiction at the University of East Anglia."

Thursday 28 March 2024

Birthday Week

Another week full of activities, including my birthday on the Friday; there were warm sunny days but there was also some April-like weather with cold rain and hail.

On Monday, 18 March, I arrived home in time to start work mid-morning. Part of my lunch break was spent dashing to the office near the train station where my volunteer group met for the cleanup the previous Saturday; one from the group forgot his backpack there, and since I live closest and have the key, I picked it up. My after-work walk that day was used to take the backpack to his house in a different part of town.

The magnolia trees in my street were in full bloom; there are two of them, one next to the other in front of two identical blocks of flats:

Sunset on my way back from returning the backpack to its owner.

Tuesday, 19 March, was a wonderful day - sunny and warm at 16C/60F. I worked from home and of course simply HAD to go for a good long walk afterwards. Hardly surprising, I chose my standard route to Benningen.

There are often herons on the fields that time of day (between 6 and 7 pm), but storks are rare here (it's the other way round where O.K. lives). I spotted the stork first, and one by one the grey herons emerged - I ended up counting six or eight of them, when at first I thought there were only two.

What the afternoon looked like near O.K.'s.

It was my Office Day as usual on Wednesday, 20 March, but with a difference: My department had its annual outing, and ten or eleven of us took a train into Stuttgart after work. 

We were booked for a meal and a guided tour after dark. The tour took in several historic buildings and places in the old city centre of Stuttgart, with our guide telling us a mix of historic facts and legends, some of which were about ghostly appearances and gruesome events. It wasn't excactly a ghost tour, but well done and really interesting.

Statue of "Stuttgardia" on a wall of the townhall

Shopping district

Our guide in his dramatic cloak

Stuttgart by night

Stuttgart Opera House

Just like Wednesday, Thursday, 21 March was even warmer at 18C/64F and sunny, a perfect spring day - very appropriate in view of the date. I spent all day at a meeting for Privacy Officers and visited my Mum in the evening.

The attic flat above mine stood empty for 10 months since the former tenants moved to a larger flat. A new family with two small children moved in that day. The current tenant is the City of Ludwigsburg, who assigns the flat to people in need, mainly refugees. I didn't have a chance to speak to them that day, but was determined to welcome them as soon as possible.

Sunrise from my kitchen window

The neighbour's garden shows a carpet of primroses.

The magnificent magnolia tree again - even more beautiful than on Monday!

Friday, 22 March, was my 56th birthday. I worked all morning, and with the recent sad events felt not at all birthday-ish. Still, it was a beautiful day, and it was lovely to receive phone calls, emails and cards with good wishes and kind words.

O.K. arrived late afternoon, and soon after we'd had coffee, we were on our way into town, walking through the town centre and towards the palace grounds - but the grounds were not our actual destination today: We were to ride the giant ferris wheel!

Maybe you remember that I did the same on my birthday in 2022, with my Mum, Dad and Mum's friend R. And maybe you remember that I blogged about the wheel being set up, and finally finished; you can see the pictures from back then here.

Approaching the wheel:

Model (meaning, not full-size) hot air balloons were in the grounds near the wheel; a festival "Balloons in Bloom" was being held:

Sunset over the palace grounds...
...and over Ludwigsburg:

Looking up at the wheel before getting on:
And finally, up in the air:
View of the palace and the hot air balloons (some of them, at least - there were more than 80!):
Looking across the city centre towards the part where I live:
A venue for concerts and all sorts of events, built in the shape of a grand piano:
Back on the ground, looking at the wheel with its changing colours:

We then went to my place, where just the four of us (Mum, my sister, O.K. and myself) had pizza and drinks. Understandably, I did not feel like a big "do", but it mattered to me to have my loved ones with me, and by now it did feel like my birthday.
Here is the atlas my sister and I used in school - we are talking late 1970s and early 1980s here. It has a special meaning for us, and my sister got hold of a copy and gave it to me for my birthday, among other things :-)

My presents and cards.

We had nothing planned for Saturday, 23 March. It was much colder than the day before and very windy, with sprinkles of rain in between. After a leisurely breakfast, we went for a walk to the lake and back through the deer park, about 10 km altogether.

In the evening, we watched "Love & Friendship" on TV, a costume drama after a Jane Austen novel - just the right kind of escapism we find helpful these days.

Monrepos palace close up

Lady by the lake

Monrepos palace seen across the lake

part of the buildings housing the winery and offices next to the lake

Favorite palace in the deer park from the back...

...and front.

On Sunday, 24 March, we set off to O.K.'s at lunch time. The motorways were really busy, and driving was also made difficult by all sorts of weather: in quick succession, we went from sun to rain to sun to hail to rain, and it was very windy.

We met at O.K.'s Mum's with his sister and her husband in the afternoon; not only does it help to spend time together, there was (and is) of course still a lot for the family to discuss, decide and organise in connection with O.K.'s Dad's death.

It definitely was a very mixed week, and not just weather-wise.