Book Review: The Flight of the Falcon by Daphne Du Maurier

flightAs a young guide for Sunshine Tours, Armino Fabbio leads a pleasant, if humdrum life — until he becomes circumstantially involved in the murder of an old peasant woman in Rome. The woman, he gradually comes to realise, was his family’s beloved servant many years ago, in his native town of Ruffano. He returns to his birthplace, and once there, finds it is haunted by the phantom of his brother, Aldo, shot down in flames in ’43.

Over five hundred years before, the sinister Duke Claudio, known as The Falcon, lived his twisted, brutal life, preying on the people of Ruffano. But now it is the twentieth century, and the town seems to have forgotten its violent history. But have things really changed? The parallels between the past and present become ever more evident

I read this years ago, had a vague remembrance about it, but my review at the time was appalling. I had a newer copy on the shelf so decided it was time to bite the bullet and read it again.

It starts with Armino working in Rome with his Anglo and American tour group, and through various means, ends up leaving a 10,000 lire note on the body of a drunken woman lying on the steps of the local church. The following morning he finds out that the woman has been murdered, the large note having disappeared and that he did in fact know the woman as someone who had worked for his family 20 years before.  Armino returns to his home town – ditching his tour group and his company – to find out more. Times have moved on, and there are few people who remember him as an 11 year old, who was driven off one day by his mother and her lover, the Nazi German Commandant (his father having died several years previously).

Armino gets pulled into the organisation of a local Festival that, to his shock, is being organised by his older brother Aldo, who he had believed killed in action during the war. The Festival is to celebrate the life and influence of Duke Claudio.  There are mixed views on Claudio, with most people thinking him rather mad and brutal. Some people think he flew off a tall building (being the Flight of the Falcon), others thinking he drove 18 horse chariot through the town, massacring loads of the local population.   Aldo is the driving force behind the festival, believing that Claudio is misunderstood and should be celebrated.  Armino has always remembered the older Aldo being a dominating personality even when younger, so his personality hasn’t changed much since the family split during the war (although Aldo has a different view of his mother after she took up with various men in the years after her first husband’s death).

In the following days some shocking events happen, ultimately resulting in public humiliation for certain individuals, all with a backdrop of the students getting rebellious in the lead up to the Festival.  Meanwhile Armino is trying to reestablish a relationship with his brother having been apart for 20 years, and both believing the other was dead for so long.

The book leads up to the Festival when, refusing Aldo’s command to get out of town, Armino ends up taking part in the rarely performed 18 horse chariot ride through the town (which previously resulted in the deaths of thousands). This is part of an exciting but ultimately tragic ending. Both Aldo and Armino learn the meaning of family, and confront some horrible truths from the past.

Parallels can be drawn with what went on in the country during World War Two – it’s the new C and E students (the ones who have brought the money into the town) against the old Arts faculty (who havent the money and are rather living in the past) and the youth and vigour of the first is rebelling against the old staid latter with a certain level of armed violence.

Classics Club August 2014 Meme


What are your thoughts on adaptions of classics? Say mini-series or movies? Or maybe modern approaches? Are there any good ones? Is it better to read the book first? Or maybe just compare the book and an adaptation?

Meme from (

I like watching the repeats of the old BBC adaptations from the 1970s of classic books (such as Barchester Towers, The Onedin Line etc. Whilst the BBC were good at doing shows like this, their lack of budget was clear to see, when compared against the shows produced even in the 1990s – set pieces shot in the studio, with few outside locations (Onedin Line being one of the few with ships being involved).

ITV started coming out of this with Jeremy Brett playing Sherlock Holmes. Great actor, location filming, slightly let down by some dubious facial hair on some of the men.

The 1990s brought a change in the game with shows such as Pride and Prejudice, Middlemarch and (for ITV) the Poirot adaptations. More money was available, with the chance of outside shots, shooting on location, a change in the types of actors (not all of them famous). Could or would we have had Colin Firth diving into a lake and walking about in see-through tops in the 1970s?!

For the longer books, I prefer mini-series to films. I’ve watched more versions of Jane Eyre than I care to admit, and few give it the effort that it deserves. My favourite version is the BBC version with Toby Stephens, though I know many that dont like this version


Classics Club July 2014 meme


  1. Have you ever read a biography on a classic author? If so, tell us about it. If you had already read works by this author, did reading a biography of his/her life change your perspective on the author’s writing? Why or why not? // Or, if you’ve never read a biography of a classic author, would you? Why or why not?

Meme from

I am not a huge biography reader – I dont like non-fiction as a whole. I have, however, read a few but these have mainly been film people (Audrey Hepburn, Stephen Speilberg and the like) but that was a long tine ago.


I have read Elizabeth Gaskell’s biography on The Life of Charlotte Bronte, which I found a little tough going at the time, but finished it in the end.  It was interesting and gave an indication of what it was like to be one of a number of girls, where the mother has died young, and there are limited opportunities for marriage. (CB married late at 38, and died barely a year into the marriage). I’m not entirely sure it displayed how she was able to write something like Jane Eyre as a result.

I’ve subsequently found out that perhaps Gaskell’s biography is perhaps not the most reliable piece of writing – Gaskell was one of CB’s friends and wanted to present her in the best possible light. I’m not a huge fan on non-fiction books, so have not looked to read an alternative version…….However it is marked in history as the first biography of a woman writer, by a woman, and helped set up the Bronte myth.


Classics Club list (update)

classicsclublogoI have decided to update my Classics Club list of books. The original post is here, but things have changed so much, and I have made a dent in reading many of the books that I have decided to post an updated list.

So here’s my list, and links to the related reviews, where they have been published:

  1. The Dead Alive by Wilkie Collins
  2. Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
  3. Miss Buncle’s Book By D. E. Stephenson
  4. Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
  5. The Hand of Ethelbertha by Thomas Hardy
  6. Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy
  7. Under The Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy
  8. To Bed with Grand Music  by Margharita Laski
  9. Clutch of Constables by Ngaio Marsh
  10. Spinsters in Jeopardy by Ngaio Marsh
  11. Vintage Murder by Ngaio Marsh
  12. Tied up in Tinsel by Ngaio Marsh
  13. A Man Lay Dead by Ngaio Marsh
  14. The Mysterious affair at Styles by Agatha Christie
  15. Destination Unknown by Agatha Christie
  16. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
  17. The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie
  18. The Sittaford Mystery by Agatha Christie
  19. The Fashion in Shrouds by Margaret Allingham
  20. China Governess by Margaret Allingham
  21. Sweet Danger by Margaret Allingham
  22. The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L Sayers
  23. Whose Body? by Dorothy L Sayers
  24. Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe
  25. Died in the Wool by Ngaio Marsh
  26. Dancers In Mourning by Margaret Allingham
  27. Flight of the Falcon by Daphne Du Maurier
  28. The Glass-Blowers by Daphne Du Maurier
  29. Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell
  30. Moby Dick by Hermann Melville
  31. No Name by Wilkie Collins
  32. The Diary of  a Provincial Lady by E. M. Delafield
  33. Sleepers of Mars by John Wyndham
  34. The Mystery of the Yellow Room by Gaston Leroux
  35. The Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas
  36. High Wages by Dorothy Whipple
  37. No Name by Wilkie Collins
  38. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
  39. The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe
  40. The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  41. The Pillow Book by Sei Shonagon
  42. The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  43. Little Lord Fontleroy by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  44. The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope
  45. The Man Who Knew Too Much by G. K. Chesterton
  46. House of Mirth by Edith Wharto
  47. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  48. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Eyre
  49. Bleak House by Charles Dickens
  50. The King’s General by Daphne Du Maurier

Classics Club: June 2014 Meme

classicsclublogoThink of an example of a classic you’ve read that presents issues like racism/sexism as acceptable within society. Do you think the reception of this classic work would be the same if it were newly published today? What can we get out of this work despite its weaknesses? Or, why would you say this work is still respected/treasured/remembered in 2014? (FYI The Classics Club can be found here)

I read Robinson Crusoe a year or two ago and was astonished at the level of implicit racism within in it (basically: white guy stranded on remote island, no chance of surviving, gets rescued by the local, black Man Friday, who rescues Crusoe, who somehow believes that he [Crusoe] is still morally and physically superior, despite the fact he would have died without Friday). I doubt people go back to the original text, preferring to remember the multiple cinema versions, which are more adaptable to the thinking of a changing world.

The Tarzan books were a little dubious – it’s still a case of “white man and western world is superior” but whilst presenting the African tribes as noble and savage (excellent hunters, with their own tribal rules and excellent in their own natural environment but, yer know, black). Again, few people go back to the original texts, especially going beyond book #1, relying on what they remember from the TV series, the cartoons and the films. As with Crusoe I think there is a romantic view of what the original text is about, and I suspect (hope!) that people would be affronted if they went back to the original texts.

I have yet to read books such as “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” and “Huckleberry Finn” which I know address issues of racism at the time, and which I suspect may anger me at one or more level.

As for sexism…..I’ll be interested in what other people define as “sexism”. I read books (such as Villette) where women are defined by their class, and if they dont marry well, or go into service, they live in this weird limbo land of housekeeper/governess/teacher…….is this a commentary of sexism or a rigid class system? Or books such as High Wages by Dorothy Whipple, where a woman decides to not live by the class rules that society defines for her, and makes a success of what she does. A certain level of sexism, yes, but I see it more as a class commentary.


Book Review: The Dead Alive, by Wilkie Collins

deadaliveThe Dead Alive by Wilkie Collins

On the evidence of The Dead Alive, Scott Turow [has written] that Wilkie Collins might well be the first author of a legal thriller. Here is the lawyer out of sorts with his profession; the legal process gone awry; even a touch of romance to soften the rigors of the law. And here, too, recast as fiction, is the United States’ first documented wrongful conviction case. Side by side with the novel, this book presents the real-life legal thriller Collins used as his model-the story of two brothers, Jesse and Stephen Boorn, sentenced to death in Vermont in 1819 for the murder of their brother-in-law, and belatedly exonerated when their “victim” showed up alive and well in New Jersey in 1820. Rob Warden, one of the nation’s most eloquent and effective advocates for the wrongly convicted, reconsiders the facts of the Boorn case for what they can tell us about the systemic flaws that produced this first known miscarriage of justice-flaws that continue to riddle our system of justice today.

A tale of false confessions and jailhouse snitches, of evidence overlooked and justice more blinkered than blind, the Boorns’ story reminds us of the perennial nature of the errors at the heart of American jurisprudence-and of the need to question and correct a system that regularly condemns the innocent.

Apparently inspired by a true story, Lefrank – an overworked solicitor told to rest by his doctor – travels from London to America to stay with distant relations.

He is barely in the house when he senses a strange undercurrent between his cousins, the estate manager and and a young American woman (engaged to one of the cousins) who is living in the house.

Heated arguments and secret assignations in the moonlit garden ensue over the next few days and it’s not long before the estate manager disappears in strange circumstances. Rumours abound, some of the man’s effects are found in the local lime kiln and the sons are soon arrested and charged with his murder.

The sons are found guilty, only to have their conviction overturned when the man makes a sudden return. Meanwhile love has blossomed between LeFrank and the young woman in the house…..

A nicely plotted short story, no extraneous words to fluff it up to a novella or a novel, Collins told all that had to be told

(read as part of The Classics Club challenge and my list is here)

Book Review: Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell

Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gaskell’s witty and poignant comedy of country-town life, a gently comic picture of life in an English country town in the mid-nineteenth century, Cranford describes the small adventures of Miss Matty and Miss Deborah, two middle-aged spinster sisters striving to live with dignity in reduced circumstances.

Rich with humor and filled with vividly memorable characters, including the dignified Lady Glenmire and the duplicitous showman Signor Brunoni, Cranford is a portrait of kindness, compassion, and hope

A classic book by Gaskill of a small town – almost a village – in rural England, dominated by women of a certain age. Whilst not rich, they are not necessarily poor and they have developed their own ways of presenting themselves to the local community.

The book is narrated by Mary Smith, not a native of Cranford, who makes occasional visits to Miss Mattie (and her older sister Miss Deborah, whilst she is alive), a spinster in her 50s. There is no plot, per se, rather each chapter describing an occurrence in the village and the resident’s reaction to it, which can often be wildly out of proportion to what actually happened.

This is a light and amusing book, which disappointed me slightly when I realised I’d been daft enough to think this was a (Lark Rise to) Candleford book (whoops!), even though I could see a similarity in some of the characters. Looking at some other reviews of this book, it seems I am not mistaken for confusing the two (Cranford/Candleford; both set in the middle of the 19th Century; etc).

Book Review: Clutch of Constables by Ngaio Marsh

clutchFive Days Out of Time

… that was how the ad had described the Zodiac cruise on the “weirdly misted” English river. The passengers were the usual, unusual lot: a couple of unpleasantly hygienic Americans, an aloof Ethiopian doctor, a snooping cleric with a wall-eye, an artist running away from her success…

But they were not all what they seemed.

For Inspector Alleyn knew that one of them was the faceless “Jampot”—the ruthless killer who could take on any personality, whose thumb was a deadly weapon. The problem was, which one?

Rory Alleyn, giving a lecture, recounts a particularly interesting case involving his wife, art fraud, and a criminal team upon a boat.

Alleyn’s wife Troy, having just had an exhibit installed, is about to return to London when she sees a last minute cancellation on a 5 day boat trip around “Constable Country”. Knowing that her husband is in America on a lecture tour, and that she would be returning to an empty flat after an exhausting time preparing for the show, she takes the trip on the spur of the moment.

There she meets people of several different nationalities, including the English born doctor (of an Ethiopian father), an Australian priest, a rather annoying and intense English woman and an American brother and sister.

Troy finds out that her cabin was to be taken by a Greek man who has subsequently found dead in London.

Troy writes several letters to her husband, giving her impressions of not only the passengers but some of the peculiar events that happen to her in the first few days. Alleyn is back on the plane home by the time the first body is found.

Troy is (conveniently) shipped off to a local hotel as the book’s focus shifts to her husband and his investigation of racism, art forgery, murder and crime syndicates.

This was an audiobook from Audible. and read by James Saxon (who has read other books, including others by Marsh). He is very capable in doing multiple accents and this certainly aids the “listening experience”. A brief look implies that he died in 2003.

The multiple timelines was a little difficult to settle to (Alleyn giving a talk about a time he was in America giving a talk whilst his wife was getting involved in an art crime), but on the whole, it was a diverting and pleasant time spent.

Book Review: The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L Sayers

ninetailorsThe Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When a disfigured corpse is discovered in a country parish, the local rector pleads with Lord Peter to take on what will become one of his most brilliant and complicated cases.

From my list of The Classic Club List, the full version of which can be found here

Wimsey gets stuck in a small village over New Year when his car breaks down, and becomes involved in bell ringing the New Year in. Whilst he’s waiting for his car to be fixed, he hears the story of some emeralds being stolen and the devastating effect it has had on some of the local families.

Months later, an extra body is unexpectedly found in a grave, face bashed in, hands cut off and a cause of death undetermined, Wimsey is called back to help find out what happened.

What happens next is a story of imposters, double crosses, bigamy, murder, theft, ciphers and bell ringing. Sometimes the information presented is a little too much, which did make my eyes glaze over occasionally, and is perhaps why it took me so long to finish – I should have been able to finish this much faster than I did. Not my favourite of the Wimsey stories, and this would not stand up (on it’s own) against an agatha Christie

Book Review: Death at the Bar by Ngaio Marsh

deathatthebarSetting in for a cozy night of brandy and darts at the pub, an inebriated lawyer suffers a seemingly harmless dart puncture. But within moments of his injury, the unlucky barrister loses more than a simple game of darts–he loses his life. Called in to investigate this alleged accident, Inspector Roderick Alleyn wonders about the rules of this friendly bar game–and probes into a pub full of motives for murder

My Rating:

I have a feeling that I’ve read this book before, but remembered little enough of what went on to find the re-read worth while.

The main protagonists are a group of friends from London, who often spend their holidays in the village: Luke Watchman, an eminent lawyer, Sebastian Parish, celebrated actor, and Norman Cubitt, painter, who is painting a portrait of Parish in the countryside near the village.

Since their holiday a year before, a new character has appeared on the scene: Robert (Bob) Legge, a secretive character with an interesting trick with darts. On the second night of the holiday, and after a decent amount of alcohol all round, Watchman lies dead on the pub floor, having died from cyanide poisoning, apparently injected via a dart wielded by Legge.

Through various technicalities, Alleyn and Fox end up travelling down to Devon to investigate. Fingers are pointed almost instantly at Legge, who is proving to be rather erratic in his behaviour, in no small part due to the 6 year sentence previously given as a result of Watchman’s work at the bar. However, Fox and Alleyn find that everyone in the room at the time of the death has a motive for seeing the barrister dead. It all boils down to who could have got the cyanide into the Watchman’s system. It’s then up to Alleyn and Fox to prove precisely who killed Watchman, even when it means a risk to life and limb for the two policemen.

This is number 9 in the Alleyn series, and Marsh is on a roll. Ever so slightly racist (looking back with 20:20 hindsight about someone “visiting the Jews” – i.e. the moneylenders) but generally working class vs upper class struggles. There are plenty of over the top characters, including the local barman, the fat Irish painter, the actor etc. Some nice small touches in the relationship between Alleyn and Fox helps lighten the mood a little. Not one of the best Alleyn stories, and not one of the worst, so a middle ranking rating.