Category Archives: Fontana Books

Filthy Lucre – Beryl Bainbridge

I always find it fascinating to read the earlier works of authors that I love as, in my head, it is a way of looking at their writing in the raw and how they went on to develop it. So when I saw that Annabel of Gaskella was doing Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week, and it was Annabel that made me read Beryl, I knew just which book I was going to read to take part. ‘Filthy Lucre’ was not Beryl Bainbridge’s debut novel in the published sense (that was ‘A Weekend with Claude’) yet it was a book she wrote at the tender age of thirteen. My mother had a copy and so I pilfered it from her shelves on my last visit, oops, sorry Mum.

Fontana Books, paperback, 1986, fiction, 144 pages, pilfered from my mothers shelves

‘Filthy Lucre’ is a tale of cheating and deception all around money.  We meet Martin Andromikey on his death bed in 1851, right until his last breath Martin believes that he was cheated of his inheritance by the Ledwhistle family. Asking his friend Richard Soleway to impersonate him, and keep his death a secret, he requests that Richard wreak revenge on them through the thing they love most, business and a business that he is set to be a partner of and so our story starts. What follows though is not unlike many Victorian melodrama’s and sensation novels that have gone before with twists and turns, murders, deceptions, love affairs and even treasure islands.

Initially I did think that because Beryl Bainbridge wrote this when she was so young it was quite possibly going to be a precocious rather annoying book, that’s the cynic in me. This is not the case. The only time I could sense it was the fact that almost every chapter ended with ‘ruin’, ‘disaster’ or ‘forever’ but this in a way is because it is also a Victorian melodrama. Here you can see an author and her influences. The Victorian sections of the novel are rather Dickensian, with the darker and occasionally other worldly elements of Wilkie Collins. There is also a real flavour of Robert Louis Stevenson and Arthur Conan Doyle when the book sets sail to distant shores, and ‘dear reader’ there is also a flavour of Charlotte Bronte in the very prose.

“We will leave now, dear readers, the bright Ledwhistle parlour, and, like a bird, pass out into the November night. We will journey down to a wharf where the slimy Thames moves like some loathsome adder, and the houses huddle together in squalid patterns. Here the lamplight falls on wasted limbs and shaking hands. It lights up sin and filth, all aware, the cruel river twists its reptile course.”

Yet this is more than just a homage though, it is a book where the characters live and breathe and where the atmosphere of London really comes off the pages. The prose is tight and what I should mention here, because it impressed me so much, was that for a book with some legal elements that reminded me of the case in ‘Bleak House’ (while I haven’t read the books I have seen the TV series) this novel is 144 pages long, not 500 plus and I found that quite incredible.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from ‘Filthy Lucre’ when I opened it, especially with the young age at which it was written and the fact that it is no longer in print. What I got was a tale of intrigue and deception that took me on a real escapist adventure and entertained me for a good hour or two as I read it in a single sitting. Like all Beryl Bainbridge’s books that I have read so far I would highly recommend you give this book a whirl.

Do pop and visit Gaskella to see Annabel raving about more of Beryl’s books, if you haven’t read her you really should. I will be doing another post which features Beryl and a new Savidge Reads project (not a read-a-thon, I am now in Green Carnation submission mode reading wise) tomorrow and then another Beryl review on Sunday as I finished this one and wanted to read more. I also wanted to read a Dickens novel after finishing this but that opens a whole can of reading worms I am not quite ready for. If you have read any Beryl, including this one, do let me know what you thought and what books I should read next, as always.

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Filed under Beryl Bainbridge, Fontana Books, Review

The Moving Finger – Agatha Christie

There are some authors that as a reader I will grab off the shelf if a) I am in some kind of reading funk or b) I have just read rather a heavy, yet rewarding, tome and need something in between starting another novel I suspect will be similar. Agatha Christie is one author that fits the bill for both, though that said I do have a random particular demand with a Christie, it can’t be a Poirot, I don’t like him for some reason, whereas I love a Miss Marple or standalone tale. So after something rewarding but weighty reading I decided it was time to pick up ‘The Moving Finger’ the third (or fourth if you include ‘The Thirteen Problems’ short story collection) Marple novel, a series I am trying to read sparingly.

Fontand Books, paperback, 1942, fiction, 197 pages, from my personal TBR

Jerry Burton is sent from London to the sleepy village of Lymstock on doctors orders and brings his sister Joanna in tow. Initially they are utterly charmed with the idyllic surroundings and quaint people that they meet. Yet soon they receive an anonymous poison penned letter accusing them of being lovers not siblings and they soon discover that most people in the village are getting equally scandalous letters too. Things soon take an even darker twist when one of the receivers of these letters dies, at first people think it may be suicide until the facts start to point to murder and another soon follows.

Hopefully that hasn’t given too much of the plot away, however I am about to let you into a small secret which led me to being rather frustrated with this book. Miss Marple herself doesn’t actually appear in the book until three quarters of the way through the novel, and then she is barely on ten pages or more as the novel closes. I am sorry to mention a negative so soon but it was Miss Marple I was really reading this book for, and rather like with ‘At Bertram’s Hotel’ (which I read out of order) I found myself most annoyed that my favourite character was barely in the book.

That said, to be fairer to the book and its author, ‘The Moving Finger’ isn’t half bad. Interestingly though I would describe it rather as I have the village of Lymstock, it is a mystery which is quite sleepy with dark edges. It was entertaining, had me guessing and kept me reading but it bumbled a little, lots of characters were introduced but interestingly more for Christie to write about quirky characters I felt than to create more suspects, which is normally the opposite of what I say with a Christie novel.

‘It’s rather like Happy Families, isn’t it? Mrs Legal the lawyer’s wife, Miss Dose the doctor’s daughter, etc.’ She added with enthusiasm: ‘I do think this is a nice place, Jerry! So sweet and funny and old-world. You just can’t think of anything nasty happening here, can you?

What I did really enjoy though in ‘The Moving Finger’ and stopped me from giving up (well apart from reading on for Miss Marple to barely appear) was Agatha Christie’s sense of humour. I don’t know if I simply haven’t noticed it before, or if it’s particularly prevalent in this book but there seemed to be a wry smile in almost every other page. It could be the descriptions of a character, one of the towns’ effeminate men gets this a lot, or it could just be a dig at the social ways of the time, either way it is definitely always there.

‘In novels, I have noticed, anonymous letters of a foul and disgusting character are never shown to women. It is implied that women must at all cost be shielded from the shock it might give their delicate nervous systems.
I am sorry to say it never occurred to me not to show the letter to Joanna. I handed it her at once.”

All in all I would have to say that ‘The Moving Finger’ isn’t my favourite Christie novel, but I still really rather enjoyed it. I had no idea ‘whodunit’, I enjoyed the setting of the English countryside where no one ever really knows what is going on behind closed doors and I really liked the underlying humour. Is it odd to say that with this book I felt I knew Agatha Christie a little better, because it is strangely how I felt?

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Fontana Books, Harper Collins, Miss Marple, Review