'The Diary of a Provincial Lady' by E.M Delafield
It’s not easy being a provincial lady in Devonshire in the 1920s, juggling a grumpy husband, mischievous children and a host of domestic dilemmas. But this provincial lady will not be defeated; not by wayward flower bulbs, not by unexpected house-guests, not by school sports day, not even by foreign travel. She will continue to preside over the W.I., endure rain-drenched family picnics and succeed as a published author – all whilst tending her strawberries.
'The Ascent of Rum Doodle' by W.E Bowman
Led by the reliably unwise Binder, a team of seven British men including Dr Prone (constantly ill), Jungle the route finder (constantly lost), Constant the diplomat (constantly arguing) and three thousand Yogistani porters, set out to conquer the highest peak in the Himalayas.
'Thou Shell of Death' by Nicholas Blake
Nigel Strangeways is one of fiction’s most delightful private investigators, choosing the profession because he felt it was the only one left which gave scope for good manners and scientific discovery. Here he is in classic crime territory: a Christmas party in a lonely country house; a collection of entertaining guests and staff – one of whom must have committed the murder; and, a romantic complication.
'The Case of the Abominable Snowman' by Nicholas Blake
A seemingly simple investigation into the unusual behaviour of a cat turns into something far more sinister when a melting snowman reveals a macabre surprise. Luckily Nigel Strangeways is on hand to solve the crime. All the ingredients of a classic crime are here: a rambling country house, a splendidly eccentric family, and a charming detective who outwits the police.
'Don't Tell Alfred' by Nancy Mitford
A posting to Paris should be every diplomat’s dream. For this particular diplomat’s wife, however, it is a posting full of potential pitfalls: her mother ‘The Bolter’ is there with her new – unsuitable – husband; her idle son is there when he shouldn’t be, and the previous Lady Ambassador refuses to move out of the Embassy. Can things get any worse? In Nancy Mitford’s hands, obviously yes. To quote Evelyn Waugh from his piece on the book in The London Magazine, 'There is an excellently rendered farcical conclusion which should not be revealed to the reader'.
'Tied Up in Tinsel' by Ngaio Marsh
Christmas time in an isolated country house and, following a flaming row in the kitchen, there's murder inside. When a much disliked visiting servant disappears without trace after playing Santa Claus, foul play is at once suspected -- and foul play it proves to be. Only suspicion falls not on the staff but on the guests, all so unimpeachably respectable that the very thought of murder in connection with any of them seems almost heresy. When Superintendent Roderick Alleyn returns unexpectedly from a trip to Australia, it is to find his beloved wife in the thick of an intriguing mystery!
'The Shooting Party' by Isabel Colegate
Set in 1913 this novel gives a glimpse of life in a great country house just before the First World War. Above and below stairs, on the estate and in the village there are rivalries, loves and tensions. In Isabel Colegate’s deft hand the gamekeeper and the poacher are as real as the lords and ladies; they are all human, fallible and capable of errors of judgement. It is an elegant and poignant book, which should be read slowly and savoured for it describes a way of life which ends, for the characters at the end of a fateful day, for the world the following year.
'The Red House Mystery' by A.A. Milne
The Red House is the country residence far removed from the world of the Hundred Acre Wood but its story has much of the same charm and wit. There is, of course, a murder and when the local police fail to come up to scratch, an amateur sleuth is conveniently ready to take over. What follows is a delightful and traditional whodunit with humour, excitement and a suitably surprising twist at the end.
'The Man Who Was Thursday' by G.K. Chesterton
Imagine a society of anarchists so secret that their members are only known as days of the week. Then imagine a police force where officers are interviewed in a pitch-dark room. Into this extraordinary world comes Gilbert Syme, poet of order and policeman, who is promised an evening of entertainment. The farce which follows has policemen following criminals, criminals following policemen and a chase through London involving hansom cabs and an elephant. The day before he died Chesterton wrote that this book was misunderstood because readers ignored its subtitle: A Nightmare. Which is exactly what it is, albeit a very entertaining and hilarious one.
'Lucky Jim' by Kingsley Amis
Few novels have skewered the absurdities of academia so precisely and wittily. Jim Dixon, the novel’s comic and finely-drawn protagonist, is disgruntled with post-war life, particularly with his post as history lecturer at a red-brick university under a fusty professor he despises. His splendidly chippy attitude does little to help as he delivers a lecture drunk, picks the wrong girl and burns a bed, and with it his chances of a future. But, of course, he has luck on his side.
'Christmas Holiday' by W. Somerset Maugham
Based on a Parisian murder trial Maugham attended, Christmas Holiday tells the story of a shocking crime. Charley Mason, a charming and gentle young man, plans a ‘glorious, wild and romantic’ Christmas in Paris before settling down in the family firm. On his first night he meets a supposed Russian princess in exile; murder, communism and impoverished émigrés fill the rest of his holiday, making an intriguing study of human nature. A fascinating comment on the period and a marvellous picture of 1930s Paris.