feasts, ferrets, and fantasy: brian jacques’ redwall

One of the most consistent aspects of my reading life is the re-reading of books. I read all of my books at least once every couple of years; I read some of them once a year (or more), and I read some of them once a year at very specific times (ahem, Tolkien, during the Winter holidays, without fail). Redwall has been a favourite of mine for a number of years now.  In fact, I still own the (pristine originally but now incredibly battered) copy that my dad gave me for my birthday (ummm twenty years ago? Oh whoa).  This was the same birthday that I got Robin McKinley’s The Hero and the Crown, so my dad obviously has excellent taste in birthday gifts. I loved bringing this book in to show to my students because I put off reading it forever–in book terms, about two weeks in real life–because I wasn’t sure how interesting a book about a mouse could be.  And then, well, I opened it up and read:

Matthias cut a comical little figure as he wobbled his way among the cloisters, with his large sandals flip-flopping and his tail peeping from beneath the baggy folds of an oversized novice’s habit. He paused to gaze upwards at the cloudless blue sky and tripped over the enormous sandals. Hazelnuts scattered out upon the grass from the rush basket he was carrying. Unable to stop, he went tumbling cowl over tail.


Well, I was hooked. And then, oh my, there was the food. Continue reading

two by marsh

Ngaio Marsh, and Agatha Christie, and John Dickinson Carr, occupy a special place in my childhood history of reading. Sometime in between The Hobbit and Foundation, I went on what can only be described as a British mystery reading spree and attempted to read everything these people had ever written. Along with,of course, everything Arthur Conan Doyle had ever written. Ngaio Marsh, though she had the smallest number of books (and, well, is technically a New Zealander), outshines everyone on pure quality of her writing.
Two of my favourites are Vintage Murder and Death of a Peer, and, as I wend my way through my library, I picked them up to read during our recent snow storm.
Vintage Murder is an early, and fun, book in the Roderick Alleyn series. This one takes place as he is travelling through New Zealand and recovering from some unspecified operation. It is early in the canon as he is not yet married or dreaming of his future wife. There is a rugby-hooligan type incident on a train that ends with a bruised backside on one of the characters and a theft before the main murder even occurs. This book has a number of characters, and following every movement of each person can get baffling at times; however, Marsh never makes the reader feel as if Alleyn knows something special or has super-powers, merely that his powers of deduction are sharp and that all of the information is there that is necessary to solve the mystery along with him.
It is interesting to note that the translations of the book all mention the murder weapon, but lose the pun inherent in the original title.
Death of a Peer, though, contains at its heart one of Marsh’s best creations, the Lamprey family. Dotty, eccentric, lovable, they form the center of a locked room mystery–and distract the reader from the horror of the crime itself. They nearly distract the detectives as well, but as Marsh’s Inspector Alleyn can always be relied upon to re-center himself, the distraction does not prove fatal and all of the clues are neatly laid out in the narrative itself. One of the characters even appears in a later book (Night at the Vulcan) and the quiet romance is dealt with deftly. Very well-plotted, very “British”, very enjoyable.

If you enjoy Christie, or even more recent incarnations such as Anne Perry, Ngaio Marsh would be well worth giving a try.