Wednesday 28 February 2024

Read in 2024 - 4: A Pen Dipped in Poison

A Pen Dipped in Poison

by J.M. Hall

In 2022, I found "A Spoonful of Murder" among donated books for sale in Ripley church, left some money in the box and took it home with me. It turned out to be a really good read (click here for my review), and you can imagine my delight when I found its successor at The Little Ripon Bookshop last summer.

Retired school teachers and friends Thelma, Liz and Pat are still meeting at Thirsk Garden Center for coffee on Thursday mornings. Some things have changed in their home lives, and they are not entirely open with each other, trying to pull through problems by themselves without bothering their friends.

Then they learn of nasty anonymous letters starting to turn up at their old school, and before they know it, all three of them are more than knee deep in a puzzling mix of nasty letters, dodgy (or not?) school accounts, a mysteriously over-heating biomass boiler, school supplies disappearing from the stock room and other funny business.

One of the letters effectively ends someone's marriage, another one leads to a near-suicide, and others claiming that nobody wants the efficient Head there seems harmless in comparison.

What did said Head of the school spot at the summer fĂȘte that made her look so shocked for a moment? And who would bother typing letters and hand-delivering them at the risk of being discovered when you could do it all much easier and more effectively on Social Media?

In spite of their homelife situations demanding attention, the three friends combine their efforts, and of course one of them works out the mystery. Not all is well that ends well, but some wrongs are righted, and the old closeness between the three and their husbands is re-established.

Just like the first book, I very much enjoyed this one, last but not least because I know so many of the places mentioned. Even my and my sister's favourite place for eating out in Ripon, Oliver's Pantry, makes an appearance!

I am certainly going to have a browse at The Little Ripon Bookshop this summer - sure that I will find #3 waiting for me.


  1. Alas, that book is not available in my library. It reminds me of another book I have read but I cannon remember the title. Glad you enjoyed it, Meike!

    1. I would not expect it to be available in your library, Ellen, as it is rather specific in its Yorkshire-based setting.
      There are certainly many stories out there that have anonymous letters at the heart of a mystery, and the most famous elderly sleuths are of course the group of friends created by Richard Osman - maybe you were thinking of one of his books?

  2. A book set in surroundings familiar to us does often add a bit of extra interest, doesn't it!

  3. Anonymous letters belong to another age, the England of Miss Marples.
    Internet nasties have supplanted anonymous letter writers, so much so
    that the wise and tolerant Bishop Robert Barron (YouTube) has publicly rebuked
    the trolls who hurl abuse at Pope Francis.

    How reassuring to find your eating favourite places in Ripon, inside the pages of
    *A Pen Dipped in Poison* ; the local economy will get a welcome boost.
    I am reading *The Honour of Israel Gow* fromThe Complete Father Brown stories by G.K. Chesterton (Wordsworth Editions).
    The tale is set in the Scottish Highlands of Scott, Stevenson and Neil Munro.

    I hope you enjoy the March winds that make the heart a dancer.
    A line from the song These Foolish Things which I can sing in French after
    a couple of glasses of claret.
    A young lady from Joan Chamorro's jazz school in Barcelona (YouTube)
    sings it with pitch-perfect wistfulness.

    1. Hello there! Every time you disappear for a while, I wonder what you're up to - reading, of course, but you certainly have your reasons for staying away from the blogosphere (and of course it's none of my business anyway).

      Father Brown: I have been watching the series with Mark Williams, one episode most evenings. As far as I know, the characters are based on Chesterton's work without following the books closely.

      Overall, February was "too warm" and "too wet" according to meteorologists. March has started grey and chilly, but this weekend is supposed to be mild and sunny in my area. As I can't spend it with O.K. (he's caught a cold), I plan on walking to Steinheim today, where my parents used to have their allotment. Tomorrow, coffee and later a meal with family and friends at my Mum's.

    2. My Compaq PC must be 15 years old, Meike.
      The battery is almost done; it keeps closing down on me.
      That is the only reason I have been away from the blogosphere.
      I am with British Telecom, but will a new PC require a new hub ?
      When it comes to computers I am like a man of the 19th Century.
      I have never sent or received an email or ordered from Amazon.
      It's time to go into the city and purchase a new PC.
      A quote from The Honour of israel Gow.
      *Do you know that every man who sleeps believes in God ?
      It is a sacrament; for it is an act of faith and it is food.*
      A reformed theologian I follow, Doug Wilson, describes
      himself as a Chestertonian Calvinist : YouTube.
      That would have made G.K. laugh over his beer.

    3. Doug Wilson : Blog and Mablog.

    4. Usually, a new PC does not require a new hub. Like you, I keep most of my things (computers and smart phones included) for a long time; usually, until they work no more or have become so cumbersome that it really makes sense to replace them. For computers, 15 years is ancient!
      By the way, you must have received emails without knowing it. In order to appear here as Haggerty, you have at some stage created a Google account, and for that lone, Google itself will have sent you emails such as a welcome message, changes to their terms and conditions, security tips and so on.

    5. Yes, re email I have also noted this in the past when Haggerty told a reader on another blog that he had no email. And of course, being with BT he will also have a BT email with them.

    6. Yes, I somehow managed to get myself on to Google, Meike.
      Blogs & YouTube are my evening entertainment, can't imagine life without them.
      I found a former newspaper colleague who is on something called
      Bit Chute, spouting laughable conspiracy stuff about Covid, not my thing at all.
      By my calculations my Compaq is 20 years in age; a friend suggests it can
      be replaced with a Hewlett Packard, if I have got the name right.
      This friend (74 years) who now has an Apple, said I pose as a technophobe.
      Rachel is correct; no *working* email address & no personal detail on my PC.
      Tonight I saw an elderly man going into Waitrose who looked like a cross between Degas, D'Artagnan, and the novelist Anatole France.
      So perhaps I am inside a late 19th Century Parisian theme park

  4. I love the cat picture in the previous post. He was certainly a splendid cat and the photo looking down on his body shows his markings so well.

    I note reading Haggerty above that he asks will a new PC require a new hub with BT. The answer is no, if he is reading, but a new hub is no bad thing and BT like to update them so do not be put off by that fear. Hubs are easy now and no "tuning" or "setting". The hub just plugs in and goes.

    1. Thank you, Rachel! I was on the right track then when replying to Jack that he won't need a new hub. You are right, updating is a good idea after so many years, and they really are "plug & play" nowadays.

      I like cats with unusual markings (I like cats anyway!). There is one living on the same street here who is more spotted than striped. He looks like a small ozelot, goes by the name of Teddy and is VERY talkative, though not too keen on being touched.