On The Shelf – Discovering New Authors – Part Four

Dornford Yates, real name Cecil William Mercer, born in 1885 at Walmer, Kent, is the author of the comic Berry books. The main characters of the Berry Books are the Pleydell family who reside at ‘White Ladies’ in Hampshire, made up of Berry Pleydell, Daphne Pleydell, his wife (and cousin), Boy Pleydell (Daphne’s brother and narrator of the books), Jonathan (Jonah) Mansel (cousin to all the above), Jill Mansel (Jonah’s sister) and with occasional appearances by Boy’s American fiancée (and later wife), Adèle. This is a group of privileged and pretty young things who excell at verbal barbs, comedic situations and much good humoured malice. Berry refers to Boy as “my brother-in-law, carefully kept from me before my marriage and by me ever since.” 

The stories are anecdotal, and involve some sort of privileged problem – their Rolls-Royce is stolen, a hat is blown away in the wind, an offensive neighbour is rude about Nobby, their dog. The resolution often involves outrageous coincidence. No one works, although the male members of the family occasionally do “go up to Town” on some vague business related matters which are never fully explained, and pithy conversations abounds.

Created by author George MacDonald Fraser, Sir Harry Paget Flashman (VC, KCB and KCIE) (1822–1915) is the fictional hero of the Flashman series, first begun in 1969. As Wikipedia tells us:  “Presented within the frame of the supposedly discovered historical Flashman Papers, the book begins with an explanatory note saying that the Flashman Papers were discovered in 1965 during a sale of household furniture  Leicestershire. Flashman is a well known Victorian military hero (in Fraser’s fictional England). The papers were supposedly written between 1900 and 1905. The subsequent publishing of these papers, of which Flashman is the first, contrasts the previously believed exploits of a (fictional) hero with his own more scandalous account, which shows the life of a cowardly bully. Flashman begins with his own account of expulsion from Rugby and ends with his fame as the “Hector of Afghanistan”, detailing his life from 1839 to 1842 and his travels. It also contains a number of notes by the author, in the guise of a fictional editor, giving additional historical information on the events described. The history in these books is quite accurate; most of the people Flashman meets are real people.” Flashman is in turn charming, brave, cowardly, a liar and a legend in his own mind, but you can’t help but be amused by him.

I’ve never cared for Alexander McCall Smith’s Number One Ladies Detective Agency books, but I love the 44 Scotland Street and Corduroy Mansions series.  The Corduroy Mansions books are set in a four-storey mansion that’s been divided into flats in London’s Pimlico section.  The flats are occupied by an ensemble of cheerfully eccentric characters who are all too human and with whom the reader can readily relate. Smith handles the multi-faceted plots deftly and gives us readers to both love and loathe. Plot devices come in the form of situations with which most can identify. The third floor tenant, William French, a widower and wine merchant, is trying to get rid of his free-loading son Eddie, a young man who simply cannot take a hint. Playing on Eddie’s dread of dogs, William gets one, in the form of Freddie de la Hay, who manages to dislodge Eddie, but who also sets the stage for further problems for William. 
Set in Edinburgh, the 44 Scotland Street series focuses on yet another set of residents. As Publisher’s Weekly said, the book, “drolly chronicles the lives of residents in an Edinburgh boarding house— it’s episodic, amusing and peopled with characters both endearing and benignly problematic. Pat, 21, is on her second “gap year” (her first yearlong break from her studies was such a flop she refuses to discuss it), employed at a minor art gallery and newly settled at the eponymous address, where she admires vain flatmate Bruce and befriends neighbor Domenica. A low-level mystery develops about a possibly valuable painting that Pat discovers, proceeds to lose and then finds in the unlikely possession of Ian Rankin, whose bestselling mysteries celebrate the dark side of Edinburgh just as Smith’s explore the (mostly) sunny side. The possibility of romance, the ongoing ups and downs of the large, well-drawn cast of characters, the intricate plot and the way Smith nimbly jumps from situation to situation and POV to POVworks beautifully in book form. No doubt Smith’s fans will clamor for more about 44 Scotland Street, and given the author’s celebrated productivity, he’ll probably give them what they want.”
Really, the only problem with these books is deciding which dog is more delicious, Cyril with the gold tooth (44 Scotland Street) or Freddie de la Hay (Corduroy Mansions). You can visit the author’s website here.
Part Five Coming Soon!

3 thoughts on “On The Shelf – Discovering New Authors – Part Four”

  1. One fact ommitted from the Flashman series description is that Flashman was a character in "Tom Brown's Schooldays" who bullied Brown. Other characters from the book about the Rugby school turn up in some of the books.

    Fraser also wrote a wonderful book about the people of the Border (between England and Scotland) region, and the comic McAslan books about life in a Scottish Regiment right after WWII. His memoir of fighting in Burma during the war (as an 18 year old) Quartered Safe Out Here, is one of the best.

    Smith is also the author of another series based in Edinburh, The Sunday Philosophy Club, starring a middle aged woman named Isobel, editor of a philosophy journal.

  2. When I worked in the public library system, I would have to work in several different libraries. One of the boring but necessary jobs of a library assistant is tidying shelves and putting books in order. Usually this is easy but there are a few names that cause confusion.

    Alexander McCall Smith, for example.

    Is "McCall" a middle name or part of a double-barreled surname?

    Some thought it was the first and shelved him under "S" but some thought it was the second and filed him under "M".

    But if you file him under "M", should that be in the separate section with names beginning in "Mc" or should it be alphabetically in "M" as is the case (for some reason) with MacDonald?

    I had to decide and then reclassify all of the author's books.

    Perhaps we should ask Precious Ramotswe to solve the mystery?

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