The Mystery of The Blue Train

blue train



I’m going through a bit of stress with my job at present and so I thought it was time to revisit the great Hercule Poirot! Curling up with an Agatha Christie is for me a comfort to rival curling up with a bowl of chocolate ice cream. I chose The Mystery of The Blue Train as it’s one of my favourites, due in part to its setting in my beloved Nice and Monte Carlo but also due to the great sleuth being on magnificent form.

As the luxurious Blue Train rolls into Nice, Ruth Kettering is found dead in her compartment. She has been killed by a heavy, disfiguring blow and what’s more her precious rubies are missing. Estranged husband Derek is chief suspect from the off, yet as always Poirot is unconvinced and all is not as obvious as it seems.

Poirot is at his clever and most playful best in this story. Using his charms and ingenuity to extract the truth and assemble the facts from a glorious cast of characters. The luxurious surroundings of the famous Negresco Hotel and the Monte Carlo Tennis Club make you want to linger over this story rather than tear through it to find out whodunnit. Poirot’s use of an eerie re-enactment of Mrs Kettering’s last journey in the final chapters produces a most unexpected and satisfying twist.

Absolutely delightful to meet Hercule Poirot once again.


A Scream in Soho




This is definitely one of the better books from the British Library’s recently republished Crime Classic series. As with the other novels in this series it is a thing of beauty. They all have magnificent cover illustrations and quality pages that have made them hugely popular and highly collectible among my friends and fellow bookworms. For some of these books, sadly, the cover remains the best thing about them but thankfully this is not the case here.

Brandon’s story is a gruesome and gripping caper around London’s Soho set during the blackouts of the Second World War. A piercing scream rings out in the night and a bloodied knife is found. Our hero, Detective Inspector McCarthy, is soon on the scene and following a hunch. This is a gloriously dark, seedy Soho underworld full of Italian gangsters, cross dressing German spies and glamorous Austrian aristocrats.

Wry McCarthy is likeable and engaging for the reader as he attempts to unravel the connection between some brutal killings and the theft of the secret defence plans. There are exciting fight scenes and chases and a pleasurable, gentle amount of suspense and drama. The supporting cast flesh out the story well and knowing the area well like I do I was able to picture the streets as McCarthy hightailed after his icy-eyed villain.

Good read.


Notes on the author – John G. Brandon:

  • Lived 1879-1941
  • Austrian born crime writer who lived in England
  • Author of 100+ detective novels

The Land Where Lemons Grow

lemons books



This time last month I was in sunny Italy travelling the Amalfi coast and marvelling at the beautiful scenery. I adored the bright pink purple Rhododendrons that spilled from rocks and clung to roadsides and the lemon grove terraces perched precariously above them overlooking the sea.

Then, I had not been home more than a few days when I saw this book reviewed and missing all of the above as much as I did, I purchased it straight away. So glad I did! Helen Attlee’s book is a sensuous exploration of citrus fruit in Italy, a fusion of history, horticulture and travelogue that made me yearn for an immediate return.

Her writing is vivid and cheerful, elegant and charming and it is both an academic and anecdotal account of the story behind the plants we so lovingly eat, drink and smell.

From those Amalfi lemons that have been grown on those terraces since the 12th century to the blood oranges that thrive in the shadow of Mount Etna, we follow the citrus scent all over Italy and learn about the vast differences in tastes and techniques.

Perfumes, Limoncello, battle weapons, tarts – citrus can seemingly offer the lot. The fruits first arrived in Italy in AD70 in the form of citrons brought by Jews fleeing Jerusalem and settling in Calabria. Then Arabs brought sour oranges when they invaded Sicily in AD831, and particularly interesting for me was reading how in the 19th century Bergamot began to be used not just as an antiseptic but to flavour Earl Grey tea (my favourite!).

As I read each page I could feel the sun on my back (even when I wasn’t in the garden or down at the beach!), smell the oranges on the trees and taste the lemon tart (with a little glass of limoncello to serve) – bliss!

A completely gorgeous book for fans of Italian food, gardens and history.


Notes on the author – Helen Attlee:

  • Author of four books about Italian gardens
  • A fellow of the Royal Literary Fund
  • Worked in Italy for 30 years