Bill Purdue’s Book Blog: Giving cats a bad name?

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Perhaps Lynne Truss’s best known book is “Eats, Shoots and Leaves: the zero tolerance approach to punctuation”.

It bemoans the current state of punctuation in Britain and the US and, like the example in the title itself, reminds people of the importance of good punctuation using humour and instruction.

Lynne Truss must be a very interesting person to meet: she is a playwright, author of both fiction and non-fiction, broadcaster and journalist and probably more besides.

Her latest book is her first fiction book in 15 years and is a horror novella, but there’s humour in it too.

‘Cat Out Of Hell’ is about a talking cat that really has nine lives, plus some librarians and possibly Beelzebub himself.

It’s published in association with Hammer Films – yes, the producer of onscreen horror.

Alec is trying to put together the story of Wiggy and how he interviewed his cat, Roger. He has been sent a number of computer files including sound recordings and photographs, all pertaining to Wiggy and Roger.

Alec’s wife, Mary, has recently died, but it gradually becomes obvious that her death is linked to that of Wiggy’s sister who mysteriously died at about the same time.

As I pointed out, there is a mixture of horror and humour here, and this sort of technique is not always easy to pull off, but Truss seems to manage fairly well.

I wasn’t sure whether I would get on with the book as very near the beginning is a list of computer documents and a short screenplay, which Alec has to work through.

Don’t be put off by that, just continue reading and you should be carried along by the plot.

In the blurb, it states that Lynne Truss has recently made “the unheard-of switch of allegiance from cats to dogs”.

There are a couple of very evil cats in there as well as a very lovable dog named Watson. I would think that cat lovers may not enjoy this book, but I’m not too sure about dog lovers either. Read it and see.

A new Flavia de Luce Mystery

Some time ago I read “The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie” by Alan Bradley (Canadian author).

It’s the first in what has become a series of novels about the not-quite-teenage amateur sleuth Flavia de Luce.

Flavia, aged about 11, is the youngest of three sisters and they all live in a crumbling mansion with their father somewhere in the idyllic English countryside.

Not long after Flavia was born, her mother Harriet, disappeared somewhere in the far east. Nobody seems to know exactly how she died or what she was doing there.

‘The Dead in their Vaulted Arches’ is the latest in the series.

It begins at the local railway station, still in the early 1950s, when a large crowd including Flavia and all her family and relatives await the train which is bringing the body of her mother back home.

The crowd includes a large number of official looking people, including Winston Churchill himself, who speaks to Flavia and asks her if she has developed a taste for ‘pheasant sandwiches’.

The significance of that remark only becomes clear much later on in the book.

The coffin is brought back to the ancestral pile for the brief ‘lying in state’ until the funeral the following day.

At first Flavia decides to use her copious store of chemical knowledge to try to bring her mother back to life, but is interrupted by a group of men who perform an autopsy.

A number of close family friends and relatives arrive and Flavia tries to wheedle what she can out of them to build up a picture of what they know and what they aren’t letting on. It appears that her mother must have been on some kind of top secret mission when she came to grief.

Amongst the relatives is Lena de Luce and her obnoxious young daughter, Undine. It appears that Lena might have had something to do with Harriet’s death, but what about all the others?

Like any true mystery this keeps the reader guessing right until the last few pages.

It’s one of those very genteel amateur sleuth stories (could it be compared to the Miss Marple stories?) which evoke a time sometime shortly after the Second World War, when things had more or less recovered from the deprivations of war, but the march of progress hadn’t quite begun.

Recommended, but not suitable for all crime aficionados.