Since I am in England right now, it’s fitting, I suggest, that for my first TT for quite a while I should feature thirteen books that I own, and have read, that are set entirely in England, with brief snippets of opinion. Agreement and argument are both equally welcome.
Medicus by Ruth Downie -- I finished this just a couple of weeks ago. It’s an enjoyable and fascinating novel about Gaius Ruso, a doctor with the Roman army in the second century who gets posted from north Africa to Deva (Chester) in north-west Britannia (England). Almost immediately upon arrival he finds himself involved with a slave girl whom he rescues from her abusive owner, a bureaucratic administrator who appears to want to be as obstructive as possible to the medical staff, a number of murders, a brothel and its owner and the other characters who populate this enjoyable, witty book.
The Churchill Commando by Ted Willis -- From the seventies, this one. The Churchill Commando is really a gang of vigilantes led by a retired army officer who do not like the way things are going, so they decide to put things right by direct action, which is to say by violence. Needless to say it all goes very wrong and whatever high-minded principles they may have started with end up being trampled on. The author is not at all in sympathy with his main characters.
Thank You, Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse -- This was the very first Wodehouse book I read, in my teens, and it started an addiction of which I have no wish to be cured. It takes a lot for a book to make a person laugh out loud, and this one did, in many places. In fact, I actually fell out of bed laughing – literally. Wodehouse devotees will know exactly what I mean.
The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time by Mark Haddon -- Have you read this book? If not, minimize this page at once and got to Amazon and buy it! This is a truly remarkable novel, told in the first person by a boy with Aperger’s Syndrome. I don’t want to give too much away, but it involves his book about a murder, his father, a train ride, a policeman and more. Look, just read it, ok? You won’t regret it.
The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens -- This was Charles Dickens’s debut novel, at first issued in monthly installments in 1836-37 and then published as a complete novel. It is the joyful, entertaining episodic story of how Samuel Pickwick and his three companions, in the years 1827-28 wander where the spirit moves them exploring that wonderful phenomenon called life. Along the way we have farce, comedy, mystery, treachery and happy endings. As well as Mr. Pickwick we meet his fellow travelers Messrs Snodgrass, Tupman and Winkle, Sergeant Buzfuz, Mrs. Bardell, Alfred Jingle and the cockney Sam Weller, who became one of Dickens’s most popular characters with Victorian readers. The book was so popular that, like successful works a century or more later, it was subject to plagiarism, bootleg copies, unauthorized spin-offs and more. The Pickwick papers made 24-year-old Dickens rich and famous, and he liked it!
The Pillars Of The Earth by Ken Follett -- Follett usually writes thrillers, and very good they are too. But this one was a departure from the norm. It is a magnificent, long novel, set in 12th Century England. The pages are so full that reading this book is like looking at a very ornate, fascinating tapestry. I would have said this was Follett’s magnum opus --- but then along came World Without End, set a couple of centuries later!
Crash! by James Broom Lynne -- Quite a straightforward, easy read. We meet several people who regularly commute to and from London from their suburban homes, to work and back, and one day their train crashes. One of those who-will-live-and-who-will-die books. Entertaining in its way.
Rumpole And The Reign Of Terror by John Mortimer -- One of the last Rumpole stories that John Mortimer wrote. This is a full length novel, and Rumpole is critical of the anti-terror laws of the early 21st century and how they affect natural justice. The opinions are of course Mortimer’s. Anyone who enjoyed the Rumpole TV program will like this book. The thing is, it’s impossible not to hear Leo McKern’s voice in your head as you read the story!
House Of Cards by David Nobbs -- I am not sure if this novel is better than the TV series based on it that came a year or two later, or if it’s not quiet so good. Probably the latter, actually, and that is a rarity. Even so, it’s an excellent read – a modern day Macbeth, with touches of Richard III, who schemes to become Prime Minister. The ending in the book is different from the one shown on TV, and of course the book doesn’t have the advantage of Ian Richardson’s brilliant performance as Francis Urquhart.
Stonehenge by Bernard Cornwell -- The author of the amazing Sharpe novels turns his attention to Britain in 2000 BC. Since we know nothing about the people who inhabited the British Isles back then, and because there is no recorded history of any kind, he can be pretty free with his imagination about who built Stonehenge, and why. And like everything else Cornwell writes, this is a lot of fun.
London by A. N. Wilson -- I only just finished this a few days ago. Maybe it’s cheating, including this in a TT about books set in England, because it’s a slim, but packed, history of London. Fascinating reading. London is unique among cities, because it hs never had an overall architectural plan. It is simply a collection of villages that have grown together over the last 2000 years, and each village still retains its own identity. The story as Wilson tells it is populated by some of the characters who made London’s story what it is – Dick Whittington, Geoffrey Chaucer, Samuel Pepys, Samuel Johnson, Winston Churchill, and all the artists, poets, playwrights, composers and musicians who gravitated to London, which always has been the centre of all artistic, financial, and political activity in England.
To Sir With Love by E. R. Braithwaite -- This was originally published in 1959, so it obviously refers to events that took place earlier in the 1950s, when immigrants from the Caribbean in Britain were a rarity and people were uncertain to react to react to them. E. R. Braithwaite, newly arrived from Barbados, took a teaching job in a rough school in London’s East End, and this excellent book as an account of how he eventually made a success of his job and won the confidence of his pupils and their families. This edition must be from the mid-1960s, when the film starring Sidney Poitier was made – the price at the top right is 5/- which means five shillings (pre-decimal money) and the strapline under the title refers to “a Negro teacher”, a term that has been effectively obsolete for decades.
Doctor In Clover by Richard Gordon -- This is one in a series of entertaining, humorous novels about doctors and others who practice medicine in England. Richard Gordon qualified as a doctor before he began writing, so he knows of what he speaks. The first ones were published in the 1950s and continued at intervals until the 1980s, giving rise along the way to several films and a TV series that ran for years. I find them all pleasant and undemanding. I notice that Wikipedia says they are not very popular these days – well, they are with me, matey, so there!