Tag Archives: Peter Cheyney


The urgent hangman

The urgent hangman (Photo credit: Christian von Schack)

I’ve recently come across a couple of articles talking about the author’s Reading Targets for 2013: to read more books, to read less books, to read a specific number of books – oh, the categories are endless. It’s clear that some New Year’s Resolutions are being put into action. Unlike most NY’s resolutions, which usually die around January 3rd

Must say I’m intrigued – piqued – puzzled –  by the concept. I’ve never set myself a reading target, and probably never will. I’ve been an avid reader all my life. To me reading is as natural as breathing, or blinking. It’s something I automatically do. If anything, I suppose my target should be to read less and pay more attention to outstanding chores and repairs. But, as I’ve said before on this blog, I’d rather read than just about any other activity – see July 2012.

As a child I was starved of playmates and entertainment – so I read, and I read anything that was printed on paper and within my voracious grasp.  I read magazines, newspapers, books, and the back of cereal boxes. I read the label on HP sauce bottles, I read children’s books, adult’s books, I read cookery books (my Mother owned an antique copy of the famous Mrs Beeton’s guide to  Household Management; while it wasn’t a first edition it was old and tattered when I found in during the late 1940s). I read anything I could lay my hands on.

Over the years I passed through a host of reading phases: Peter Cheyney and Agatha Christie (thanks, Dad!), Science Fiction novels and stories, during Ray Bradbury ‘s heyday. I read ALL Georgette Heyer’s historical Regency romances, and all Zane Grey’s Westerns. Yes, I kid you not, all of them.  My taste was – and still is – splendidly catholic. Nowadays I read across a wide spectrum. I love my two Book Clubs, which expose me to a wide range of books, some of which I wouldn’t otherwise have tried, and nearly always receive a delightful surprise on my adventures through uncharted territory.

About two years ago I joined Goodreads and found a vast universe of fellow book-aholics. Oh joy! Fresh info and inspiration. It’s an on-line web-site, and not to be missed, if you’re as besotted with books as I am.

I have read in bed, in the bath, at the stove while cooking supper, on the kitchen back step – wickedly ignoring my screaming baby in her pram – War & Peace took a lot of effort for a young, sleep-deprived mother, let me tell you. I’ve read on trains, aeroplanes, ocean liners but not in cars – the motion  jiggles the print too much and gives me headaches. I’ve read whilst standing in queues, in dentist’s waiting rooms, inside cinemas, at work during my lunch-break, in bus queues, in hotels, hospitals, retreat centres, in chalets in game reserves. And I’m sure I’ve left out some locations, some occasions. But I’ve never read to order, apart from the hefty classical novels demanded by the school syllabus.

I did some rough calculations and calculated that if I had read 2 books per week, on average, that gave me approximately 100 books per year. Taking the age of ten as my baseline (and I learnt to read when I was five years old) and doing some multiplication, it seems probable that I’ve read at least 6000 books to date. Not to brag or anything, just saying.

Over the last ten years I’ve kept a Reading Diary, in which I write reviews, or short comments about my reading, and these have been invaluable in shaping this blog. But: Reading Targets? Whatever can they mean?

(POSTSCRIPT: I tidied my cupboards today & have to confess I found 48 books in my To-Be-Read Pile. I suppose I should declare an official target to work my way through the pile by the end of 2013. Only problem is, I keep acquiring more books. Hmmm …..)






During the painful and sleepless hours around 3 a.m. (after my hip replacement op), I took refuge with Brahms & Simon’s incomparable impresario, that Russian visionary, Vladimir Stroganoff and his ballet company. After all these years they are still gloriously entertaining.  I bought the book in 1979, the year after I emigrated to South Africa, but I first read the book years ago – perhaps in the early 1950’s, from my Mother’s bookcase.  I see there was once a little rectangular sticker inside my book – it would have shown the bookseller’s name – van Schaik, in Pretoria, I think.  I’d rubbed out the pencilled price long ago, but on the jacket is the price £4.95 so it can’t have been very much, even when converted to South African Rands. In those days I didn’t earn very much, but I do remember spotting it in the book store window display and buying it without hesitation – such a treasure, what a find! The first publication would have been in the 1930s.

Thirty years on the pages have turned a deep brown and towards the back the print has faded – I didn’t realise it could, or did.

The jacket says Caryl Brahms was a well-known British ballet critic and that SJ Simon died young – it almost sounds as if he suicided, as Stroganoff would have said.

What I love about Brahms & Simon, apart from their splendid characters, is their brief and trenchant writing style, the catchphrases, (You schange me a scheque? is the constant optimistic enquiry from their erratic choreographer, Nicholas Nevajno,who is permanently broke); the dislocated English that so beautifully conveys a Russian accent with economy and effect.

The characters are wonderful. There’s Arenskaya, Ballet Mistress, once  prima ballerina at the Marinsky, now the tyrant of the rehearsal room, locked in mortal combat with the rehearsal pianist on a daily basis, resulting in screaming matches of epic proportions. There are the Mothers, cosseting and coaxing and bullying their ballerina daughters towards fame. Naturally this involves tears, dramatic exits, tantrums, back-stabbing, scheming, declarations, hysterics –  and all this before lunch, never mind after the performance.  There are the White Russian generals, bewhiskered and be-medalled, balletomanes to the last frayed cuf , gallantly bearing bouquets and promises of champagne.  And I should mention Ernest Smithsky, possibly the worst male lead ever, who does very dodgy lifts. But he does try. Even Diaghalev gets a mention in this frothy fictional world of the ballet.

Along with P.G. Wodehouse they rank as my No 1 Comic novelists; Prachett comes in a poor second, and as for Jasper fforde and Robert Rankin, them I dismiss, as Stroganoff would have declared.

B & S were writing in the 1930s, so was Wodehouse.  What is it about this writing that so amuses me?  Or what is it about my taste that finds the 30s writing so entertaining? It’s not as if I’m wedded to 30s novelists or the crime writing – Christie, Wallace, Cheyney etc, all whom I’ve read. It’s just some of the 30s humourists who tickle my funny-bone.

More  about the duo:  I Googled B & S and they turned out to be a couple of Jewish Brits with  Mittel European names.  I think the J S  stood for Joel Sidelsky and Caryl B turned out to be Doris Abramavitch!   Very canny to semi-change their names, given the class system in Britain and also the times – the run up to WWII.

Their books on Alibri, listed in the Out of Print section, are priced from $20 to the low $40’s – wow! The only in-print book seems to be No Bed for Bacon @ R134.  It’s a Shakespearean skit, which I’ve read, and loved.  Must say I’m tempted to buy it.

I continue to sort through, weed out and re-read my books.  I’ve enjoyed doing it.  It’s been interesting to see how I’ve reacted to long kept books.  Suddenly you realize your taste has changed and you will never re-read a book – not worth the time, or actually never worth it in the first place. So into the Charity Sale Donations box it goes. But never my Stroganoff omnibus; I’ll be clutching it on my death-bed to keep it from my heirs – be warned!

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