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murderA Murder of Magpies

by Judith Flanders

2015: St. Martin’s Press, New York.

It’s March Break, which means pajama days, which means days to read for hours on end.

I curled up this morning with a find from Ben McNally Books, where I never fail to find an Anglophilic read, and even better, one I’ve not yet heard of.

A Murder of Magpies is a murder mystery by Judith Flanders, best known for her work on Victorian lives and times.  Her award-winning The Invention of Murder examined how the Victorians turned what was actually a rare crime into ubiquitous press and entertainment.

Flanders’s own foray into the murder mystery genre is set in London, and its protagonist, Samantha Clair, is an editor at a publishing firm housed in a draughty building and staffed by bright young things who are not so bright.  She scorns fashion, believes passionately in the value of her work, is cheerfully independent, funny and she is sexy.  When she asks one of the powerful men in the story to account for why he had wanted to help her, he replies

“You have balls.”  He looked at me as though he’d just paid me a compliment.  Of course, in his mind, he had.  I’d just never wanted balls.  Silly me.

Sam won my heart early in the book when she described her days: they are long, they start early, and only occasionally with a run:

There are supposed to be endorphins or whatever that make you feel great when you exercise.  I don’t think I have any, because I only feel great when I’m lying on the sofa reading a book, possibly while simultaneously eating biscuits.  That’s why I work in publishing, not athletics.

Sam is about to publish a tell-all about the crimes and misdemeanours in a large fashion house, when the book’s author and her friend, Kit, goes missing.  DI Jake Field comes to her office to ask about the death of a bike courier who was carrying a copy of the manuscript, and although he is at first dismissive of her concern about Kit’s whereabouts, things soon heat up on the action and attraction front.  Sam’s mother is a very well-connected lawyer who completes the detecting trio, and together they take us through a quick and very pleasurable read.

The book was riddled with improbabilities.  No way would the detective on the case tell Sam so much.  No way would a veteran editor but rookie crime-solver investigate and solve the crimes inside a fortnight.  Now way is Sam’s mother so well connected.  None of it mattered.  I was completely willing to suspend disbelief because Sam is a hard-working, book-loving, feminist spark, and I loved her.  I also loved the casual way in which she falls into a relationship with Jake in which neither of them play the other or get caught up in games.  She’s just so smart in so many ways, and I loved her company.

The book was published in England as Writer’s Block.  Neither title works particularly well; there was no case of writer’s block, nor was there a discussion of collective nouns involving death, more’s the pity, but since it’s the story that counts, the titles are neither here nor there.  The good news from England is that there will be more.  A Bed of Scorpions will be published in England this week.  Even better, it’s a campus novel.  It’s ticks each and every one of the boxes in my list of highly desirables, and I will be on the lookout this time when it does cross the pond.

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Buy Canadian

Making a list, and checking it twice, eh?

Buy Canadian Books! 

Check out the Advent Book Blog for recommendations, or make your own list of suggestions to share.

And here is a bit of history of this meme from the Canadian Bookshelf Blog.

Give-a-CDN-book image

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The big boys and I made a quick trip to the Design Exchange to see their current exhibit on the history of the book: Out of Sorts: Print Culture and Book Design.  As a bibliophile, I did not see much that I did not already know, and the Canadian book design display did not make the most of its subject matter, but it was a relatively kid-friendly introduction to the progress from scroll to codex to printing press, with an interesting book sculpture thrown in.

I also enjoyed being able to see up close Jonathan Safran Foer’s book, Tree of Codes, created by cutting words out of its “parent text,” The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz.

The exhibition runs until August 21.

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A printing chain, from old to new.  Four printers.  Four colours.  One hundred years of desktop printing history.  Working together.   Xavier Antin’s Just in Time, or a Short History of Production.

From The Atlantic.   Thanks to Sarah for sending me the link.

What could he do with interacting bound and digital books, I wonder?

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This is a quick slideshow from Iain Stevenson at The Guardian on the influence of Allen Lane and Paul Hamlyn on the history of publishing. 

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