I’ll Keep You Safe – Peter May (2018)

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I was just in the right mood for a mystery the other day so happened by the library (as one does), and picked up this Peter May mystery. I’m not that versed in mystery titles, but with the summer in full swing (hot), I was looking for a narrative set in a cold place.

This book, I’ll Keep You Safe, was set on the Island of Harris  in the Hebrides, so I was set for plenty of rain, wind and cooler weather. I’d vaguely heard of May as an author, but have seen his name in a wide variety of places, so checked this one out, title unknown. (It’s good to live on the edge now and then.)

This was a stand-alone mystery that features a young couple who have started their own independent tweed business, which after struggling for a while, suddenly takes off into the stratosphere when an (in)famous fashion designer picks their fabric for one of his fashion shows.

During one of these shows during Fashion Week in Paris, the husband of the couple goes to a business-related meeting, but gets killed when his car explodes from a bomb. Why is he killed? Who killed him? And what about his female passenger?

So the narrative builds from there, and plays with time, going into the past to show readers who the couple are, their history and up to the present. It’s not a really avant-garde approach to writing a story, but it does what it says on the tin (and this is a murder mystery after all).

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What was most curious to me (apart from the story which was great until the last couple of chapters – more on that later) was the fashion designer upon whom May must have based his character on. The fashion designer in the book is fashion’s bad boy – full of excess, abusive of both substances and his nearest and dearest. He is badly behaved and his contemporaries view him as the enfant terrible who produces amazing clothing shows that are full of theatrical and sartorial overload.

(The fact that there is a main character in this field also gives the author a reason to talk fashion lingo, of which there were quite a few words that I didn’t know. “Bumsters”, anyone? May does not wear his knowledge of fashion very lightly in places, as he kept making all his characters wear these bumsters. Can’t have been very warm in them there Hebrides!)

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Bumsters (low-rise jeans)

Doing some superficial on-line digging brought me to the realization that May must have based his fashion designer character on Alexander McQueen, an English designer in the 1990s and early 2000s. McQueen was known for excesses both on and off the stage, and, in fact, one of his own shows also featured tweed once Spring, so it was a match.

The designer in the story follows a similar career path as well, in that McQueen worked as chief designer from 1996-2001 at Givenchy, and then founded his own brand.

I wasn’t that familiar with Alexander McQueen, but he seems to have been a character, and his own tweed-based show seems to have met similar accolades from his contemporaries and the media. I am actually pretty curious as to how and why May based one of his main characters on this man.

I wonder what the trigger was for him (as the author) to pick McQueen? Looking at the author pic of May, he doesn’t look like a person who keeps up with high fashion but you never know…

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Peter May, the author.

So, the story rattles along at a fast pace, jumping between the small Hebrides island police and the Parisian police departments, both working hard to solve the car explosion. Was it a terrorist incident? Or was it personal?

As the tale starts to wind up, the clues narrow in and then, in the penultimate chapter (I think around there), May drops the hammer.

But when I learned who the murderer was, I was soooo cross as, to me, May had chosen a stereotypical and easy way out. I’m trying not to give you spoilers, but I was disappointed that the author had chosen this person as it just seemed to fall into a fairly typical male (sexual?) fantasy.

I honestly thought he could do better, specially considering that he has written and successfully published numerous books. Oh well. I enjoyed the rest of the book. 🙂

 

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Cold Weather Reads for the Hot Season (at least here in Texas!)

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The temperatures here in West Texas are creeping up and have hit the typical numbers now, which means hot, hot, and more hot. I’m not the biggest fan of these never-ending hot and dry days, but luckily for me, I don’t have to work in the cotton fields or live in a house without air-conditioning. 🙂

It still doesn’t take the fact away that the days here can get really warm, and so I thought it might help keep us cool if I put together a reading list of books that feature cold weather in some way. (Cold and wet would be even better! You can take the girl out of England, but you can’t take the England out of the girl, as they say.)

So, here are a few suggested titles from both the blog and my TBR that might do the trick for cooling down your internal thermometer:

Antarctica would be a good place to start, so how about a read of the riveting adventure of Captain Scott and his fatal expedition at the turn of the twentieth century? Apsley Cherry-Garrard has The Worst Journey in the World, a two-volume diary that details almost every step of the way and is an adventure classic that is hard to put down. You can almost shiver in sympathy at these poor men who follow an almost despotic leader across iceburgs with completely inadequate equipment and training. (Volume l and Volume II). Another angle would the biography of Apsley Cherry Garrard called simply Cherry (TBR).

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If your goal is general survival, try Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies and Why by Laurence Gonzales (TBR) as it looks like it has some useful tips based on research, but if you’d rather look at a slightly warmer (and more civilized) trip across some wilderness, you could try Mary Bosanquet’s Saddlebags to Suitcases, where she details her time crossing some of Canada on horseback back in the 1930’s/1940’s. It’s still cool, but more summertime cool.

If you’re interested in history and the pioneer life (since it can get pretty cold in a log cabin or sod house), Timothy Egan’s Lasso the Wind: Away to the New West looks good (TBR), and I know that Dayton Duncan’s Miles from Nowhere: In Search of the American Frontier (1993) is excellent.

If you’d prefer to look at pioneer things through a  family saga perspective, you could always read the classic, Giants of the Earth by O.E. Rolvagg (1927) which has some cold parts of it. (Clearly, since the story is placed on the northern plains of the U.S. in a log cabin…)

Speaking of living a domestic life for pioneers, another good read (this time a how-to book) is The American Woman’s Home by Catherine Beecher Stowe and Harriet Beecher Stowe (1869), an excellent guide for first-time explorers which tells you how to survive both the hot and the cold if you’re building a new life and a log cabin on the plains.

db035d32e6865b0673e873457270f2c5Another good pioneer perspective (including a difficult winter or two), this time from a very cheerful and optimistic newcomer, is The Letters of a Woman Homesteader by Elinor Pruitt Stewart (1914) or you could return to old faithfuls such as The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder (1940). Or even the NF book, The Children’s Blizzard by David Laskin (2004) (TBR) which tells the tale of how a group of children got lost during a blizzard in America’s heartland back in the 1880’s.

Speaking of bleak weather, if you’d like to travel with a man and a boy during the aftermath of a tremendous event, Cormac McCarthy’s The Road is as unrelenting a read as the bad weather and bad luck for these characters. (That’s a toughie to read, IMHO.)

On the other hand, if your plans are more “travel-around-the-world-with-servants” style, and you need some non-fiction to know *exactly* what to pack, try the Victorian travel book, The Art of Travel by Francis Galton (1854) . (So. Much. Stuff. But that’s ok as you’re not the one carrying it. :-} )

DQWqwPVXkAAFMF5Perhaps your plans include a journey via the Himalayas, so you could have an enjoyable journey with Michael Palin when he went there: Himalaya (2004) is a book about his travels there one year.

Another true adventure book that gets a bit cold is The Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz (TBR) which follows the truly amazing journey of seven prisoners of war who escape from a Soviet labor camp and travel across Siberia, China, the Gobi Desert, Tibet and over the Himalayas to British India in 1941. (Also the related film tells their story and is called “The Long Way Back” (2010) if you’re more of a film buff.)

And if you’d rather take a look at the Russian side of the world, Esther Hautzig’s The Endless Steppe (1968) is a riveting quick read about how one Polish family survives as prisoners in Siberia around the start of WWII.

If you’d like to get away from almost everything, I’ve heard it gets a bit cold out in space, so you could always refer to Chris Hadfield’s lovely book about his life as an astronaut, The Astronaut’s Guide to Life (2013)… (or Mary Roach’s pretty hilarious Packing for Mars…)

For a rather different take on life on English moors, try The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Runner by Alan Sillitoe (1959) , a collection of short stories by one of the more recognizable names of The Angry Young Men movement in mid-century England.

Or you could venture out onto the cold and rainy moors with The Hound of the Baskervilles (1901)  or perhaps another of the many Sherlock Holmes titles. (They usually involve some cold places of one kind or another.)

More cold-weather crime is via Crimson Snow: Winter Mysteries, a collection of stories edited by Martin Edwards as part of the British Library Crime Classics series. And don’t forget Dame Agatha Christie who has some cold reads, Murder on the Orient Express being one of the more obvious choices.

You might prefer to go more on the domestic route with some dreary weather, so perhaps The Lonely Passion of Miss Judith Hearne by Brian Moore (1954) or a quick WWII domestic read of 1939’s Mrs. Miniver (Jan Struthers). You know what? The gritty Irish trilogy that starts with The Girl with Green Eyes (Edna O’Brien, 1962) or maybe the trilogy that starts with The L-Shaped Room by Lynn Reid Banks (also published in the 1960s) might hit the spot since that’s rather a cold book (re: temperature) at times. There’s also a sequel to that as well: The Backward Shadow (1970) and that’s followed by the final title, Two is Lonely (TBR). (These titles are also known as the “Jane Graham” series…) Just sayin’. Sometimes you want dreary, amiright?

For a snowy and slightly scary story, don’t forget that Shelley’s Frankenstein (1818)  has some chilly moments in it as well, as does The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson (1896).

Peter Hessler has written several NFs about life in rural China, so perhaps start with River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze about his time teaching in a small rural town, although there are several titles from which to choose. It has some cold scenes in it.

Similar (in that both places can be cold) but different would be a read of Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick (2010) of life for the typical person in North Korea. Brr. Hungry, poor and cold? No thank you.

If you’re not quite sure where exactly you’d like to go to get cooler, any of the prestigious America’s Best… volumes can take you almost anywhere you’d like, with travel writing collected and edited by a variety of authors (including Bill Bryson (2000) , Elizabeth Gilbert (2013), William Vollman (2012)   etc.)  These collections typically contain a mix of climates as part of their writing selections (although they can sometimes lack diversity in the author selections)…

Finally, for the more science-y folks, you could learn more about the amazing snowflake and see some stunning photography, in The Snowflake by Kenneth Libbrechrt and Patricia Rasmussen (2003).  This title even makes some parts of physics comprehensible and fascinating… (And that’s me saying that from the perspective of dropping physics and chemistry when I was 12 years old. If I can understand it from my non-science background, it’s probable that you will as well. Plus – great photography.)

So, there you go. Some wintery reads for you if you’re stuck with hot temperatures. Hope that helps (or at least guides the way for) you if you’re sweltering…!

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