The Schirmer Inheritance by Eric Ambler

A book I didn’t want to end as for me there are many questions left unanswered about the characters, but I can’t say what those questions are otherwise I will give away the ending.

However, the ending is satisfying and does close the main story of this book, which leads from early 19th-Century Eastern Europe to the USA of the early post-WWII years and then back across to the European continent. George Carey, the lawyer, and Maria Kolin, the interpreter, head towards The Balkans in search of a man who may be entitled to inherit a lot of money, should he prove to be alive. This proof is very hard to find, but eventually leads to a conclusion in the rather wild and lawless country in the border between Greece and Yugoslavia.

Night at the Crossroads by Georges Simenon

Georges Simenon books are so easy to read. There’s snippets of conversation, vivid descriptions of the countryside, and a mystery thrown in for good measure.

Maigret investigates a crime at the Three Widows Crossroads where a diamond dealer is found dead at the wheel of a car that’s in the wrong garage.

In this tale, no one is who they appear to be and yet Maigret sees through the facades and the lies to discover the truth.

The writing is simple – there’s no need for a dictionary, Simenon doesn’t try to show off or impress the reader with his vocabulary, he tells the story, sets the scene, creates the images you see in your mind, and provides enough description of the characters for your imagination to do the rest.

Recommended as usual.

Night at the Crossroads by Georges Simenon

Georges Simenon books are so easy to read. There’s snippets of conversation, vivid descriptions of the countryside, and a mystery thrown in for good measure.

Maigret investigates a crime at the Three Widows Crossroads where a diamond dealer is found dead at the wheel of a car that’s in the wrong garage.

In this tale, no one is who they appear to be and yet Maigret sees through the facades and the lies to discover the truth.

The writing is simple – there’s no need for a dictionary, Simenon doesn’t try to show off or impress the reader with his vocabulary, he tells the story, sets the scene, creates the images you see in your mind, and provides enough description of the characters for your imagination to do the rest.

Recommended as usual.

The Europeans by Henry James

I’ve never read a Henry James book before and then I saw a copy of this book in MacLeod’s bookshop in Vancouver and thought I should give it a go.

Well, I’m glad I did, but I doubt I will read another book by this author.

It was interesting but not gripping and I didn’t feel that invested in the potential amorous outcomes.

The Europeans are Eugenia, Baroness Munster, wife of a German prince who wants rid of her. She crosses the sea to America along with her brother Felix Young.

They make themselves known to their relations and are invited by their uncle, Mr Wentworth, to stay with him and his daughters Charlotte and Gertrude and his son, Clifford, at their home. Felix falls for Gertrude who is loved by Mr Brand the Unitarian minister who is actually secretly admired by Charlotte.

A cousin of The Wentworths, Robert Acton, admires Eugenia and the sister of Robert Acton called Lizzie is loved by Clifford.

The question is: who does Eugenia fall for and can she even consider marrying when she is still officially married to the German prince?

All the answers are revealed at the end of this gentle, insightful novel full of witty comments and strong character portrayals.

The Europeans by Henry James

I’ve never read a Henry James book before and then I saw a copy of this book in MacLeod’s bookshop in Vancouver and thought I should give it a go.

Well, I’m glad I did, but I doubt I will read another book by this author.

It was interesting but not gripping and I didn’t feel that invested in the potential amorous outcomes.

The Europeans are Eugenia, Baroness Munster, wife of a German prince who wants rid of her. She crosses the sea to America along with her brother Felix Young.

They make themselves known to their relations and are invited by their uncle, Mr Wentworth, to stay with him and his daughters Charlotte and Gertrude and his son, Clifford, at their home. Felix falls for Gertrude who is loved by Mr Brand the Unitarian minister who is actually secretly admired by Charlotte.

A cousin of The Wentworths, Robert Acton, admires Eugenia and the sister of Robert Acton called Lizzie is loved by Clifford.

The question is: who does Eugenia fall for and can she even consider marrying when she is still officially married to the German prince?

All the answers are revealed at the end of this gentle, insightful novel full of witty comments and strong character portrayals.

Three Men on the Bummel – Book Review

This is the sequel to Three Men in a Boat and it is really rather good, especially when the three men – George, Harris and J – are travelling around the middle of Europe interacting with the locals and passing judgment on their surroundings as they move from Hamburg to Berlin and Dresden and their destination The Black Forest.

A bummel is a journey either long or short without a specific end date. It strikes me everyone should go on a bummel occasionally.

There are some amusing anecdotes – George tries to buy a pillow / cushion for his aunt but ends up with a peck on the cheek from an embarrassed shop assistant (the difference between kissen and kussen). Harris tries to stop a man watering a road in Hanover and ends up wetting everyone in sight in his struggle to wrest the hose from the man’s grasp. J steals a bike from a train under the mistaken impression it was Harris’s bike and not a complete stranger’s bike and ends up having to explain himself to the police who believe him to be a thief.

There are some excellent insights into the male character, for example on a man’s sense of direction:

“My instinct is correct enough; it is the earth that is wrong. I led them by the middle road….If the middle road had gone in the direction it ought to have done, it would have taken us to where we wanted to go.”

and a great reason why English spread through Europe and beyond

“But the man who has spread the knowledge of English from Cape St Vincent to the Ural Mountains is the Englishman who, unable or unwilling to learn a single a single word of any language but his own, travels purse in hand into every corner of the Continent.”

Three Men on the Bummel – Book Review

This is the sequel to Three Men in a Boat and it is really rather good, especially when the three men – George, Harris and J – are travelling around the middle of Europe interacting with the locals and passing judgment on their surroundings as they move from Hamburg to Berlin and Dresden and their destination The Black Forest.

A bummel is a journey either long or short without a specific end date. It strikes me everyone should go on a bummel occasionally.

There are some amusing anecdotes – George tries to buy a pillow / cushion for his aunt but ends up with a peck on the cheek from an embarrassed shop assistant (the difference between kissen and kussen). Harris tries to stop a man watering a road in Hanover and ends up wetting everyone in sight in his struggle to wrest the hose from the man’s grasp. J steals a bike from a train under the mistaken impression it was Harris’s bike and not a complete stranger’s bike and ends up having to explain himself to the police who believe him to be a thief.

There are some excellent insights into the male character, for example on a man’s sense of direction:

“My instinct is correct enough; it is the earth that is wrong. I led them by the middle road….If the middle road had gone in the direction it ought to have done, it would have taken us to where we wanted to go.”

and a great reason why English spread through Europe and beyond

“But the man who has spread the knowledge of English from Cape St Vincent to the Ural Mountains is the Englishman who, unable or unwilling to learn a single a single word of any language but his own, travels purse in hand into every corner of the Continent.”

The Holy Grail by Giles Morgan

This is a high-level guide to The Holy Grail charting the origins of the quest from the early Christian gospels through to modern day stories and films.

The book introduces all the characters you would expect: King Arthur, Galahad, Percival, Wolfram von Eschenbach, Malory, TS Eliot, Dan Brown, and Indiana Jones.

It’s an interesting read and includes many interpretations about the Grail legends from authors who might not get a mention in more academic books on the subject.

The book was written before the latest ‘research’ on the Holy Grail, research indicating the grail is in Leon, Spain. There’s also no mention of the grail in Valencia cathedral.

The Bridge of San Luis Rey – Book Review

This story won the Pulitzer Prize for Thornton Wilder in 1928.

This is a fictional story that explores the lives of five strangers who die in the collapse of a rope bridge on the road from Lima to Cuzco in Peru.

Friar Juniper attempts to find answers for why they died and what purpose it served. He writes a book outlining the reasons why he thinks these five people were chosen to perish, but The Inquisition hear of his exploits and he’s condemned to be burnt at the stake.

The backstories of the five victims of the bridge collapse are extraodinarily exact and detailed and when I was reading the book all I could think of was, why did this person die and what quirk of fate lead them to be crossing the bridge?

The book ends with a character’s observation: “There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.”

The Holy Grail by Giles Morgan

This is a high-level guide to The Holy Grail charting the origins of the quest from the early Christian gospels through to modern day stories and films.

The book introduces all the characters you would expect: King Arthur, Galahad, Percival, Wolfram von Eschenbach, Malory, TS Eliot, Dan Brown, and Indiana Jones.

It’s an interesting read and includes many interpretations about the Grail legends from authors who might not get a mention in more academic books on the subject.

The book was written before the latest ‘research’ on the Holy Grail, research indicating the grail is in Leon, Spain. There’s also no mention of the grail in Valencia cathedral.