Wednesday, 14 December 2011

who is my favourite author?

Scott Pack is rounding-up of his favourite films, books and so on from the year, and this made me think. I have, as it happens, had a cracking year for reading. War with the Newts is very good for about forty pages and then becomes all-time amazing; Frederick Exley's A Fan's Notes joins it in the discussion over the best books I've ever read, and for good measure I have been re-reading The Forsyte Saga, which has been in that discussion for a decade.

All the same, I think Dorothy Dunnett is still my favourite author. Favourite is not quite the same thing as 'best'. I have banged on about the Lymond and Niccolo series' before - fourteen books of high octane historical romance (very much not my genre; you have to push through the first 1.2 Lymonds while DD finds her voice, but thereafter I couldn't put them down) - but I am only just reading the Johnson Johnson mysteries for the first time.

Each is narrated by a different woman, while Johnson himself is a diffident-seeming portrait painter with a yacht called Dolly. Dunnett is clever, the stories are complicated and the characters are super. I am in the middle of Dolly and the Cookie Bird (AKA Ibiza Surprise, AKA Murder in the Round).

The cover, above, is from 1985. It's sort of ghastly, but I love it. If it puts you off, let me tell you that it's got nothing on the most lurid of the Lymonds. The one below isn't the worst, but I haven't got time to dig around my shelves. The covers (and titles) give no insight into the books.

Some people like Dick Francis and liked him even more in their youth. One of the funniest things, which a female friend pointed out to me a long time ago, is the clothes he dresses his characters in. For DF, pretty women wear flounces, frills and a ton of perfume. DD is also very clear on clothes, and lots of the books are set at similar times, and I kept feeling the echo. DD is wildly better than Francis, and she does what she does in a much more self-aware way. It is, quite apart from being fun, an excellent bit of high-society social history. Here we are in Ibiza:

Austin hesitated. I'd expected him to be turned out in white tux, all Washington style, but he was wearing a cream wool-jersey suit by Virgul of Paris, with a strawberry cashmere polo-necked sweater. I saw the label.

Who wouldn't look good in cream wool-jersey and strawberry cashmere? (At this point, incidentally, our heroine, a minor hon, is in white moire silk with clear polythene bands in between. Her daddy would have hit the roof, but it's his murder we're investigating.)


Jenny Davidson said...

The covers are amazing! I never saw those Penguin Dunnetts...

Robert Hudson said...

They are definitely my favourites - I have Cookie and Doctor in those. Singing and Paradise I have rather dull versions with a distant Dolly and they're in the Tropical Issue / Rum Affair name-period.

The awful Lymond ones - characters looking radically unlike the ones DD describes - I love too, just because I enjoy reading getting them out on the tube, but even for an A-format lover, which I absolutely am, the quality of the printing and cramped text is regrettable.