books monthly january 2018 - The Jerry Dowlen column...

This month Jerry Dowlen looks at a a selection of Christmas stories...

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Christmas Books: Wendy Cope … P D James … Rumpole


Festive Fun: Wendy Cope pens Christmas poems; P.D. James goes Christmas crackers; Rumpole roams the courts at Christmas.


I do like to read a book with a Christmas theme, at Christmas. But I don’t want a ‘roast turkey and stuffing, roast potatoes followed by pudding’ heavy and indigestible sort of book. For me please something easy that I can dip into and read beside the fairy lights on the tree, perhaps drifting in and out of a late afternoon nap or two!


Santa’s sleigh is always heavily laden but I have asked him this year if he might have room for three enjoyable little slim-line paperback books for me …


Christmas Poems: More delightful poetry from the popular Wendy Cope.


Christmas Poems (Faber, 2017) is a newly-released collection of poetry by the very popular Wendy Cope. The publisher promises us that Christmas Poems collects together Wendy Cope’s best festive poems, including anthology favourites such as The Christmas Life, together with new and previously unpublished work. Wendy Cope celebrates the joyful aspects of the season but doesn’t overlook the problems and sadness that it can bring.


Wendy Cope is one of our best-selling and best loved poets.  Born in 1945 in Erith, Kent, she lives now with her husband in Ely, Cambs. She once was voted by BBC Radio 4 listeners as the ‘people’s choice’ to be Poet Laureate, but on the last two occasions when the post was vacant in 1999 and 2009 she decided not to put her name forward.


Charles Moore in the Daily Telegraph has praised Wendy Cope’s artful and skilful poetry: ‘Her subject matter is anchored in personal experience; poems of deceptive simplicity that seem to be just about ‘little’ things but are actually leading you into bigger subjects such as God, love, death, families, class, language and ageing.’


The Mistletoe Murder and other stories by P.D. James


Alas there will be no new stories to come from the late P.D. James (1930 – 2014) a celebrated doyenne of the crime fiction genre. Fortunately, in The Mistletoe Murder(Faber, 2016) readers can be acquainted or reacquainted with four short stories of hers that were published in 1969, 1979, 1995 and 1996.


I think that literary editors render good service when they find and republish forgotten or out-of-print works by popular authors. Two of the four P.D. James stories no doubt were widely read when respectively commissioned by the Daily Mail and the Sunday Times for Xmas reading more than twenty years ago, but without this republication by Faber we wouldn’t likely have remembered them.


Each of the four stories is a legitimate and skilful ‘whodunit’ but delightful little treats pop up here and there to make us imagine that P.D. James would have smiled with pleasure at sharing a joke or two or three with her informed readers. For example there are gentle moments of pastiche of Sherlock Holmes (when we meet a malevolent and creepy butler); Daphne du Maurier (an isolated mansion encountered at night in a sinister and brooding landscape); Agatha Christie (a conglomeration of crazy Christmas-themed clues in the bedroom of a country house where a patriarch has met a grisly death).  And the fictional barrister Gort Lloyd is surely none other than the legendary real-life Marshall Hall whose eloquent and tear-jerking soliloquies defied his juries to condemn his poor innocent clients to death.


As two extra short treats we have a foreword penned by Val McDermid extolling ‘the keen intelligence … and genuine expertise’ that P.D. James brought to the crime fiction genre. Then we read a short analysis penned by P.D. James in 2001 that demonstrates those very virtues.


Rumpole at Christmas: a late hurrah for John Mortimore’s bold-as-brass barrister


My third and last choice of gift parcel for my Christmas stocking is Rumpole at Christmas (Viking, 2009). For I have belatedly realised that my treasured indoor collection of all the Rumpole books lacks the slim and some might say trifling posthumous issues that came into the bookshops shortly before and after the death of their venerable author Sir John Mortimer (1923 – 2009).


To collate and publish a collection of five Christmas-themed Rumpole stories for Xmas 2009 was a fitting though sad tribute to Sir John whose death had occurred ten months earlier in January. Sir John had continued penning Rumpole stories to the last, despite his physical illness and infirmity. Understandably, these late-written stories in collections also including Rumpole and the Primrose Path (2002) and Rumpole and the Reign of Terror (2006) were slender saplings in comparison to the mighty oaks of the first crop of Rumple stories that ran on ITV’s Thames television in the 1980s. But you’d have to be as much a curmudgeon, surely, as the irascible Rumpole himself, not to enjoy the wit and comedy of these light-hearted tales of courtroom capers at Christmas!


Jerry Dowlen

November 2017


Previous articles by Jerry Dowlen in the Books Monthly Archives include:


  Rumpole December 2017

   Roger Moore as Ivanhoe

   Future Rock: Music and Politics in the 1970s

   The New Love Poetry and London's 1967 Unforgettable Summer of Love

   Stan Barstow

   The author E.M. Forster (1879 – 1970) in books and films.

  The novelist R.F. Delderfield and his heroes who roam from home.

  How The Wild West Was Written

Emmeline Pankhurst and Florence Foster Jenkins

John Updike

Paula Hawkins: The Girl on the Train

H G Wells

In praise of the British Seaside!Girls Just Wanna Have Fun in 1963: Christine Keeler & Nell Dunn

Politicians, Pop Stars and Preachers - John Mortimer's Characters of 1986

Shakespeare's 400th Centenary

Gregory's Girl: Remembering the Hit Film

The Impact and Legacy of Fear of Flying by Erica Jong

A Tribute to Margaret Forster

Remembering Saeed Jaffrey

Old Wine in New Bottles - "new" books by Margery Allingham, Raymond Chandler & Agatha Christie

Remembering Ruth Rendell

Philip Larkin: His Maiden Voyage on The North Ship (1945)

The Catcher in the Rye and Billy Liar

Michael Holroyd

Erle Stanley Gardner

John Masefield


Antony Sher: The History Man

Edmund Crispin, Crime Fiction Author

Computer Chess: The Imitation Game

P G Wodehouse

John Betjeman and Candida Lycett Green

Daniel Abse

Sherlock Holmes: The Seven Per Cent Solution

Wilfred Owen

Wolf Mankowitz

Bob Hoskins

Muriel Spark & Jane Gardam

The Story of Edith Nesbit

Anthony Gilbert and Michael Gilbert

Rebels With A Cause

Inspector Winter: Gwendoline Butler's First Detective

The Carlton, The Commodore, and the Embassy - Orpington's Three Cinemas

The Bergerac Police Adventure Series

It's All In The Mind - Margery Allingham and Graham Greene

Berlin: Cold War Spy Thrillers

The Life and Centenary of Barbara Pym

D H Lawrence: The Sniggering Legacy of Lady Chatterley's Lover...


The small print: Books Monthly, now well into its sixteenth year on the web, is published on or slightly before the first day of each month by Paul Norman. You can contact me here. If you wish to submit something for publication in the magazine, let me remind you there is no payment as I don't make any money from this publication. If you want to send me something to review, contact me via email and I'll let you know where to send it.