City break

Edinburgh Castle, from Prince’s Street

We’ve just returned from a mini-break in The Athens of the North, also known as Edinburgh! This second visit gave us a little more time to not just revisit what we enjoyed before but to seek out some more delights — Holyrood House, Arthur’s Seat and the Botanical Gardens, for example.

As is our wont we walked everywhere, all the better to see the architectural highlights and quirks of the city’s built environment.

Literature wasn’t neglected either. I began racing (well, probably strolling leisurely) through Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street, a title I’ve had on my radar for a while thinking this would be an ideal occasion to get stuck into it, seeing as it’s set here. What an unexpected surprise then to see that Scotland Street actually exists! No Number 44, however… More on this later.

I also devoured a mini-collection of short stories by Diana Wynne Jones called Stopping for a Spell, an apposite title for the witching month of October. More too on this for another post.

And I polished off and posted a review of Nina Bawden’s The Witch’s Daughter, as you will have seen, which because set in Scotland (on the east coast, though, not the west) was an apt choice too for reasons both seasonal and sojourn-related.

Continue reading “City break”

That’s the way to do it

Edinburgh sees the final weekend of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2009 (Wikipedia image)
Edinburgh Fringe turn, 2009 (Wikipedia image)

Kate Atkinson One Good Turn
A Jolly Murder Mystery

Black Swan 2007 (2006)

Kate Atkinson’s novel reminds me of the customary list, the dramatis personae, that appeared in printed copies of plays from the Elizabethan period onward announcing the characters one would expect to strut their stuff on the stage.

SO-AND-SO, King of Such-and-Such
THINGUMAJIG, heir to the throne of Such-and-Such
A gravedigger
FLIBBERTIGIBBET, Queen of Somewhere Else
A nurse
Attendants, courtiers, peasants etc.

For practical purposes — read-throughs, programme notes, students — that’s all very helpful, but from a dramatic point of view it makes little sense: an audience would want the characters, like the play’s narrative, to unfold before their very eyes, and a bald roster of who appears doesn’t normally tell you an awful lot.

So, what if I were to present the principal players in One Good Turn in a similar manner — would that be any different? Continue reading “That’s the way to do it”

Locked room cozy is a page-turner

hanged manC S Challinor Phi Beta Murder  Midnight Ink 2010

C S Challinor’s sojourns in Scotland and England and residency in Florida, her academic background, ear for language and love of the classic age of whodunits all contribute greatly to the authority of this novel. She writes sympathetically about individuals from one culture adapting to another, about the struggles and stresses of students coping away from home and the bemusement of their elders trying to get to grips with modern mores. And, for the mystery aficionado, she sprinkles the text with clues and red herrings in equal measure in best whodunit tradition. Phi Beta Murder is a fine page-turner given a sense of urgency by predetermined time-constraints and the cloistered and claustrophobic atmosphere of a second-rate Florida college where a student is found hanged. Add to that a list of dramatis personae and a taster for a sequel and you have a hugely enjoyable piece of bedtime fiction.

A confession: I’m not a great fan of mysteries,  Continue reading “Locked room cozy is a page-turner”