I’d Better Off (In a Pine Box)

I love Patricia Highsmith, and one of the great joys of the last twenty years or so in my reading life has been slowly working my way through her canon.

Is there anything more fun and exciting than discovering a new writer whose work you enjoy? I think not! And it’s always fun to start working your way through their canon. I’m not even remotely close to being finished reading Highsmith; I’ve been enjoying my occasional forays into her work, and if you’ve not read her short stories….well, you’re really missing out. Her short stories are just as quirky and dark and pessimistic as her novels; although I’m really not so certain that I should use the pessimistic label with Highsmith. From everything I’ve read about her, she was a terribly unpleasant person with a cynical world view and a not particularly high opinion of her fellow human beings; although I think I can honestly say right there with you, Patricia! most of the time. Highsmith’s dark, cynical view of the world and her fellow human beings is partly what makes her books so terrific, so amazing, so suspenseful and so entertaining. I think the first of hers that I read was Strangers on a Train, which was a Hitchcock film I’d always loved; imagine my surprise to discover that it was based on a novel (as so many old films were; not many people knew, for example, that Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? was also a novel first, and it’s actually quite a good novel, at that). The book was amazing (and I should probably reread it as well), and I became aware of The Talented Mr. Ripley when the Anthony Minghella film version, starring Matt Damon, Jude Law, and Gwyneth Paltrow, was released. The same author as Strangers on a Train?

I was so in. I actually read the book before I saw the film–which I think we rented, or watched when it made its way to HBO–which I also really enjoyed; Matt Damon did a great job as Ripley. But as more time went by my memories of the novel became supplanted by memories of the film–and as I knew there were differences between the two, I always meant to get back to the book but never did. I also never read the other books in the so-called Ripleyad; I never saw any point. I thought the first novel stood perfectly well on its own with its self-contained story and I worried that reading the others might spoil the first. There are five novels about Tom Ripley in total; written over the course of twenty six years, from 1955 to 1991. (There’s a lovely but expensive boxed set of them available; I may treat myself to that for my birthday, but whether I do or not remains to be seen.)

Over the past few years (probably a decade, I literally have no concept of time anymore) I’ve read some other Highsmith novels; The Blunderer and The Cry of the Owl, neither of which are as well known as the Ripley books or Strangers on a Train, which is a pity; both are truly fantastic–I particularly love the way she flips the narrative in The Cry of the Owl and turns it into something completely different from what the reader is expecting at the beginning; it’s absolutely genius, and mandatory reading for anyone who wants to write suspense novels, frankly.

But I wanted to reread Ripley, and possibly even go on to the other four books in the Ripley series, primarily because I am now rereading some of these older works with an eye to how male sexuality is presented; Ripley  was published during the highly repressive 1950’s, which was a horrible decade in which to have an alternate sexuality as well as to write about them; often they were coded. (I also want to reread Strangers on a Train for that same reason) When the Minghella film was released, there was a lot of talk about Ripley’s sexuality and its possible repression; there’s probably a similarity there between it and A Separate Peace; books in which I recognized something when I read them about male relationships, friendship, and intimacy that resonated with me. And I also realized, as I said earlier, that my memories of the book had become blurred by my memories of the film–which I also want to watch again; I can never forget that image of Matt Damon’s so-pale-it-almost-glowed skin on the beach in his yellow bikini when he awkwardly meets the Jude Law/Gwyneth Paltrow portrayed characters, and I wanted to reread that scene again in particular, to see how Highsmith handled it.

the talented mr. ripley

Tom glanced behind him and saw the man coming out of the Green Cage, heading his way. Tom walked faster. There was no doubt the man was after him. Tom had noticed him five minutes ago, eying him carefully from a table, as if he weren’t quite sure, but almost. He had looked sure enough for Tom to down his drink in a hurry, pay and get out.

At the corner Tom leaned forward and trotted across Fifth Avenue. There was Raoul’s. Should he take a chance and go in for another drink? Tempt fate and all that? Or should he beat it over to Park Avenue and try losing him a few dark doorways? He went into Raoul’s.

Automatically, as he strolled to an empty space at the bar,  he looked around to see if there was anyone he knew. There was the big man with the red hair, whose name he always forgot, sitting at a table with a blonde girl. The red-haired man waved a hand, and Tom’s hand went up limply in response. He slid one leg over a stool and faced the door challengingly, yet with a flagrant casualness.

“Gin and tonic, please,” he said to the barman.

The book opens differently than the Minghella film; which immediately changes the dynamic of who Tom Ripley is. In the film, Dickie Greenleaf’s spots Tom performing at a high society party with a music combo; he’s wearing a jacket that identifies him as an Ivy League alum–so Mr. Greenleaf, seeing that he’s about the same age as his son, thinks Tom might know Dickie and be amenable to an expenses-paid trip to Italy to retrieve him; only later do we learn he’d borrowed the jacket and probably doesn’t know Dickie at all.

As you can see from the above, Highsmith opens with suspense. Someone is following Tom, and it’s making him nervous–why? And why would someone be following him? We soon find out that he’s nervous because he’s been pulling a tax scam; he’s been calling random people, pretending he’s from the IRS and telling them they need to send more money because they didn’t pay enough taxes; it’s just for fun, as the checks aren’t made it out to him and he can do nothing with them. This is our first anticipation, as readers, that Our Hero may not exactly be your traditional-style suspense hero. But it’s only Mr. Greenleaf, not a treasury agent, and Mr. Greenleaf explains his situation to Tom–wanting Dickie to come home, as his mother is dying of leukemia and Dickie needs to get it together, give up his Bohemian life as a painter in Italy and come back to the US to take up his rightful place in the family business.

Soon Tom is on his way to Italy, funded by the Greenleafs, and tasked with bringing the recalcitrant heir home. He does find Dickie on the beach in Mongibello, and has to somehow make his acquaintance–and he doesn’t have a swimsuit:

He hadn’t brought a bathing suit with him, and he’d certainly have to have one here. Tom went into one of the little shops near the post office that had shirts and bathing shorts in its tiny front window, and after trying on several pairs of shorts that did not fit him, or at least not adequately enough to serve as a bathing suit, he bought a black-and-yellow thing hardly bigger than a G-string.

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In the film, the awkwardness of the scene–and Tom in the bathing suit (which, in this case, is a lot more than a G-string; but then again, Tom has buried a lot of shame deep inside himself, and not just about his sexuality) he is clearly uncomfortable wearing, as well as the pasty whiteness of his skin amongst all the tan bodies on the beach, instantly induces sympathy for him–and in the book, it’s much the same. Highsmith takes us into Tom’s mind, in a tight third person point of view, so that we know what he is thinking and what he is feeling–but Highsmith is such a master writer, so good at making we the reader identify with Tom…that we soon forget that she is also dropping little hints along the way about just who he is. He is often refreshingly honest–he is very quick to tell people that he is good at forgery (he is) and mimicking other people (again, he is) and freely admits to many not quite moral talents; the great irony is that Tom has learned that you can quite often tell the absolute truth to people and they won’t believe you. He’s charming in his way, because he has learned that to get what he wants out of life, he has to be. Soon he is quite obsessive about Dickie–and disliking Marge, to the point of hating her for never letting him be alone with Dickie.

And this exchange:

“Marge and I are fine,” Dickie snapped in a way that shut Tom out from them. “Another thing I want to say, but clearly,” he said, looking at Tom, “I’m not queer. I don’t know if you have the idea that I am or not.”

“Queer?” Tom smiled faintly. “I never thought you were queer.”

Dickie started to say something else, and didn’t. He straightened up, the rubs showing in his dark chest. “Well, Marge thinks you are.”

Ah, some self-loathing a teenaged Greg can certainly identify with. Deny, deny, deny.

I loved the book even more than I did on the first read, and perhaps there’s a much longer, more in-depth piece I could write about this book (I certainly tagged a lot of pages as I read), but I am now interested in reading the rest of the Ripleyad; to see how Tom comes out–he certainly wound up ahead of the game at the end of The Talented Mr. Ripley, having lied, forged, stolen, and killed his way to get there.

And I do want to watch the film again–it’s on Netflix. Maybe something to watch while on the treadmill at the gym? Perhaps.

Midnight Train to Georgia

Thursday morning, my first cup of coffee and there’s condensation all over my office windows. There’s mess everywhere in the Lost Apartment this morning–which means, of course, that it’s Thursday. My Monday thru Wednesday work days are lengthy and exhausting so I rarely have the energy to do much of anything on those nights when I get home from work, other than watch a little television, write a bit, and possibly read some. Last night I got home from work, moved a load of laundry from the washer to the dryer, started another load in the washing machine, wrote six or seven hundred words, than escaped to my easy chair. I’m watching a lovely documentary in bits and pieces–Tea with the Dames, on Hulu, which is just Maggie Smith, Judi Densch, Eileen Atkins, and Joan Plowright, talking about their careers, their long friendships, and gossiping about other actors and directors they’ve worked with. It’s quite charming, actually, and then Paul was ready to watch another episode of The Boys, which continues to amaze and impress me.

It’s also now August this morning, so that means there are only nineteen shopping days left before my birthday, so I strongly suggest and recommend you get started looking for my gifts now, okay? It’ll save you so much stress if you do it now, and beat the inevitable crowds that are certain to form the closer the actual day comes.

The big project I’m working on that dropped into my lap lately moves closer to completion; or at least, closer to my part being finished; I’ve acknowledged that after a certain point my assistance is moot and would be useless, but I can get a lot of the groundwork finished to begin with, which is in my wheelhouse, and we’re almost there.

As I said earlier, I only managed 700 or so words on the WIP last night, which isn’t terrific, but there are certainly worse things. Writing this book has been like pulling teeth almost from the very beginning, and doesn’t seem to get any easier the closer I get to the end. But that’s okay; I like the way it’s all coming together, despite the roughness of the words and the writing, it’s just taking me a hot minute to get everything finished, and that’s fine. I’m not so sure I know how to make the Kansas book–which I’ll be revising for the final time once I finish writing this draft–go faster than this; I am doing some heavy revisions and heavy lifting with it (I am literally stunned–and glad I waited on it–to see how many high school tropes and stereotypes I played into with this particular manuscript; I mean, literally–pick one and I can almost certainly let you know that it was included in this book), but I am confident I know what to do with it and am hoping I’ll get through it relatively quickly. I’m kind of glad another project I was scheduled to start working on today has been moved back another couple of months–dealing with it while trying to get this other stuff done (especially the one that dropped out of nowhere into my lap) would have sent me straight to the Xanax bottle. As it is, I have some other odds and ends I need to get done that I don’t seem to have the energy to get to once I do everything else for that day; perhaps one morning this weekend I’ll simply focus on those things and get them out of the way once and for all. I have three short stories promised to write, two of which I haven’t the slightest idea of what the story actually is; I definitely need to set aside some time to brainstorm those as deadlines are looming and drawing nearer and nearer.

And I really need to clean out my email inbox once and for all.

I also agreed to participate in a round table discussion about an aspect of writing–you know me, I never say no since I’m always flattered to be thought of and included in the first place–but yesterday I took a look at the questions and JFC, they are way over my head and slightly too smart for me; answering and participating is going to probably make me look stupid. (Shut up, Bryon.) But I agreed to do it, so I am going to print out the questions this weekend and look them over, because they do require thought rather than off-the-top-of-my-head answers. (Let me put it to you this way; the very first question revolves around an Octavia Butler novel…so you see how far it’s over my head already.)

This morning I feel very rested and very good; I feel like I can conquer the world today, which is always a plus and it’s also been a hot minute since I’ve felt this way.

I got some more books yesterday–Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction by Patricia Highsmith (I am literally drooling to start this); Love and Death in the Sunshine State: The Story of a Murder by Cutter Wood; and The Women of Dauphine by Deb Jannerson, a queer y/a set in New Orleans by a local writer; I don’t recall how I heard about this book, but I did and now I have it. I’ve not read a New Orleans novel in a while, and it might be fun to read another writer’s take on our diverse, vibrant city. I’m actually not sure how I heard about any of these books, to be honest–other than Sarah Weinman was talking about the Highsmith on Twitter last week and convinced me I needed to read it. I generally don’t read how-to-write books anymore (other than John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction, which I primarily read, and reread, for enjoyment because Gardner was such a pompous, pretentious ass, which comes through loud and clear with every sentence–it helps whenever I want to create a character who is a pompous ass literary writer), but Sarah (who has to date never been wrong with recommending something to me) said it’s not only a writing guide but also sort of a memoir, and Highsmith was not only an unpleasant person but she embraced her unpleasantness, which is kind of lovely and fun and admirable–and probably fun to read. I love her novels–I’ve not read the entire canon, and I never finished the Ripley series other than the first one–and I should probably start working my way through the canon at some point. I’ve never been disappointed with a Highsmith, and the last two I read–The Cry of the Owl and The Blunderer, were simply genius and devilishly clever).

I also want to finish reading Steph Cha’s Your House Will Pay, which I’ve been recommending to all my co-workers.

Okay, that’s enough morning reflection. I need another cup of coffee, and I think I’m going to do some chores around answering emails this morning.

Have a lovely Friday Eve, everyone!

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Drive

It is cold, gray and wet again this morning in New Orleans; the high is predicted to be 42. 42! Honestly. I turned the heat on yesterday and honestly, forgot to turn it off before i left for the day–and usually this makes the upstairs an inferno. Nope, it was merely comfortable up there when I got home from work last night. So, I turned it off when I went to bed, and turned it back on again this morning as I shiver at my computer. Heavy sigh.

But Paul comes home tonight, hurray! And it’s also Friday, so I have a short day today to usher in the weekend. I got an unexpected royalty check yesterday–it’s so lovely that the Frat Boy books from Kensington are still selling, all these years later–and that altered my weekend errand plans somewhat. There’s also no Saints game on Sunday, nor any college football, so I have absolutely no excuse to not clean and edit and write this weekend. I do hate that college football season is over almost entirely, but hey–what can you do? LSU did far better than I could have hoped after a rocky start, and the Saints did a lot better than I thought they would have, especially after that 0-2 start.

Last night, I finished reading Patricia Highsmith’s The Blunderer, and started rereading Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show, which is my favorite novel of his. I read it the first time when I was about twelve, I think; and have reread it several times since; but I haven’t read it again in over twenty years, and I found a copy when I was cleaning out the storage unit and dragged it out. It’s not the first book people think of when they think of McMurtry–that would most likely be his Pulitzer Prize winning Lonesome Dove–and I’ve read a lot of McMurtry–not all of it, certainly–but I’ve always had a special regard for this novel. But I’ll talk more about that when I’ve finished the reread.

Meanwhile, The Blunderer by Highsmith was quite an interesting read.

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The man in dark-blue slacks and a forest-green sport-shirt waited impatiently in the line.

The girl in the ticket booth was stupid, he thought, never had been able to make change fast. He tilted his fat bald head up at the inside of the lighted marquee, read NOW PLAYING! Marked Woman,  looked without interest at the poster of a half-naked woman displaying a thigh, and looked behind him in the line to see if there was anyone in it he knew. There wasn’t. But he couldn’t have timed it better, he thought. Just in time for the eight o’clock show. He shoved his dollar bill through the scallop in the glass.

“Hello,” he said to the blonde girl, smiling.

“Hello.” Her empty blue eyes brightened. “How’re you tonight?”

It wasn’t a question she expected to be answered. It wasn’t.

And so begins Patricia Highsmith’s third novel. The thing that is so terrific about Highsmith is you really never know what you’re going to get with her; her plots are fiendishly original and clever, and so deliciously dark and relatable in some way. The Blunderer opens with Melchior Kimmel establishing an alibi for himself by going to see a film and being seen…and once seen and recognized, he keeps going and exits, heads for his car and then follows a bus north. At a designated rest stop he parks out of sight, finds his wife, who has gotten off the bus, convinces her to follow him to go and chat, and once they are out of sight he brutally murders her.

He gets away with it, too–he was seen at the movie theater, remember, and no one saw him at the rest stop. His wife’s murder remains unsolved.

Until lawyer Walter Stackhouse sees a notice in the paper about the murder. It intrigues him. He writes essays, or wants to write essays, about what he calls ‘unequal friendships,’ where one friend is lesser than the other and yet the better friend seems to get dragged along by the other. This murder fascinates him, and he starts trying to think how the husband could have done it and gotten away with it…and actually figures it out. Walter is also unhappily married; his wife, Clara, is frankly awful and is trying to ruin his friendships with other people and isolate him; yet she also makes him terribly unhappy. He tried to leave her once before and she threatened to kill herself, so they patched things up. But he is now introduced to another young woman whom he’s attracted to…and somehow Clara has figured this out and continues to make him miserable.

His idle fascination with the Kimmel murder eventually leads him to visit the bookstore Kimmel owns and operates, orders a book, and decides, after having seen Kimmel, that he must be innocent. His own life, meantime, gets worse. He tells Clara he wants a divorce and she attempts suicide. She gets out of the hospital and is just as awful as ever…and then her mother dies and she has to go back to her hometown in Pennsylvania to attend to things. She takes the bus. Obsessed with the Kimmel case, and wondering if he could, in fact, kill his own awful wife…he follows her bus in his car. When they reach a rest stop, he gets out of his car and looks for Clara…and cannot find her. But he’s seen…and later, Clara’s body is found at the bottom of a cliff. Suicide or murder? The police think it’s suicide at first…but the similarity to the Kimmel case is there….and his own fascination with that case now comes back to bite him in the ass.

I greatly enjoyed this book, as I have all of Highsmith’s that I’ve read thus far, and I love how she deftly changes directions in ways the reader cannot see coming. You can’t help but feel for Walter in his horrible dilemma, and the way his life starts to slowly spiral out of control all because he happened to read about an interesting murder in the newspaper. As the weird connections between the two cases slowly come to light, no one believes Walter is innocent–not the police, his friends, his co-workers, his maid, nor even his new love. It’s an extraordinary story, and the way Highsmith heightens the tension until it’s almost unbearable, the two parallel stories crossing and recrossing, is quite exceptional.

Highly recommended.

Sister Christian

It’s cold, gray, and damp in New Orleans this morning. I would guess it’s probably less than sixty degrees inside the Lost Apartment–I am wearing a wool cap and my hands are cold as I type this–but I also have a short day of work today, and I intend to use this time wisely this morning–writing, cleaning, etc. Paul returns home tomorrow everning late; so I am going to need to finish cleaning the upstairs. I bought our advance tickets for Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi yesterday; Sunday of opening weekend so I won’t have to avoid spoilers on-line as long as I did for The Force Awakens. Woo-hoo!

I’m about halfway through Patricia Highsmith’s The Blunderer, and marveling at how bleak her world view is, to be honest. Highsmith writes in a very distant third person point of view, and her voice is terribly matter-of-fact, which makes the reality of the story she is telling much worse. Highsmith is a master of the wrong-place-wrong-time suspense tale; which is something I absolutely love. These kinds of stories build suspense naturally; the reader and the main character know they’re innocent of any wrong-doing, but no one else believes them, which also tends to make them paranoid and the pacing picks up the more paranoid the main character becomes. I sort of did this in Bourbon Street Blues, only Scotty’s only crime was to be the unwitting recipient of something both the villains and the FBI wanted to get their hands on. You can’t, of course, turn that type of a tale into a series, although part of the problem I’ve always had with writing Scotty books is I’ve always tried to turn each new book into a traditional mystery series tale, and Scotty books aren’t, and should never be, a traditional mystery tale. I always run into trouble when I try to make them out to be that way.

Heavy sigh.

I managed to get some work done on a short story yesterday as well; I’d love to get that first draft finished sooner rather than later, so I can polish it and get it into submission-ready shape.

Lord, it’s cold in the kitchen this morning. I may have to go get a blanket in a moment.

Christmas looms on the horizon, and I have yet to shop for anything. I will finish the Christmas cards this weekend–yes, I actually started addressing them and signing them and putting them into envelopes; I may even get them in the mail so people can receive them before the holiday, look at ME adulting–and I also probably should do some shopping this weekend. I need to make up my mind whether I want to simply shop on-line or if I want to actually brave a mall. I used to abhor malls, but over the years as I spend less time in them the rare occasions I actually go to them turn out to be kind of enjoyable. Lakeside Mall has both an Apple Store and a Macys, and that’s usually all I need to do at a mall, besides the Food Court–I always treat myself to something at the Food Court whenever I go to one; and yes, I am aware how weird it is that fast food is something I consider a treat. But I never eat fast food; there’s really not anything conveniently accessible, which made moving into this neighborhood a genius move for that reason alone.

And on that note, I think it’s time for me to head back into the spice mines.

Here’s a Calvin Klein ad for your delectation; Marky Mark from the 1990’s for Throwback Thursday.

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Here Comes the Rain Again

It started raining yesterday, and hasn’t really let up since; and it has brought a biting, bitter cold with it. As such I slept later than I intended to this morning–Wednesdays being one of the days I have the luxury of not needing to use an alarm–but nevertheless, I am not awake,, wearing sweats and swilling coffee.

I finished reading Donna Andrews’ delightful How the Finch Stole Christmas last evening, curled up in my easy chair under a blanket, and started reading Patricia Highsmith’s The Blunderer, which, as always with Highsmith, is enthralling. Highsmith is one of my favorite writers, but I’ve never read her entire oeuvre since there will never be new Highsmith novels to read; this way there’s always more of them I haven’t read yet (I have also done this with Shirley Jackson and Daphne du Maurier); but after I finished the Andrews–which was an absolutely lovely comfort read–I wanted something a bit more biting and snide–and for that, you really can’t go wrong with Highsmith. The Blunderer is one of the novels curated by Sarah Weinman for the Library of America series about terrific women crime writers from the post-war era; Weinman’s ringing endorsement is one that simply should not be overlooked–she’s never wrong. I got several chapters into it last night before going to sleep, and am definitely looking forward to doing the same again this evening.

How the Finch Stole Christmas is a delight from start to finish, as are all of Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow series.

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“Shakespeare was right. The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

“I wish I could hear you say that in person,” I said.

“Yeah, over the cell phone you miss all my dramatic gestures.” Michael’s voice sounded more exasperated than angry. And since I knew my husband wasn’t usually prejudiced against the legal profession, I was puzzled instead of worried.

“Are you someplace where you can talk?” he asked.

“I’m not at the theater, if that’s what you mean. Reverend Robyn wanted to see me about something. At the moment, I’m over at Trinity, sitting in her office, waiting for her to solve a Christmas pageant prop emergency, so until she comes back, I’m at your service.”

The other night, I watched All About Eve again for perhaps the thousandth time, with a young friend who’d never seen it before. One of my favorite lines in the film is not one that is quoted regularly; Karen and Margo are sitting in the car, out of gas on their way to the train to take Margo back into the city for the evening performance she is going to miss. Margo turns on the radio, and some maudlin orchestral music plays for a few moments, with the camera focused on Margo’s face, one eyebrow arched. She turns the radio off and says, “I detest cheap sentiment.”

One of my biggest issues with Christmas is precisely that; cheap sentiment. I used that quote as an epigram for my Christmas anthology Upon a Midnight Clear, because I didn’t want to publish stories that were emotionally manipulative, and the stories in the book weren’t. Christmas is nothing if not a holiday rife with cheap, manipulative sentiment, and many carols and shows and movies mine this territory to the point where by the actual day’s arrival, I am so completely over the holiday and the saccharine-sweetness that I am almost afraid to turn on the television.

Donna Andrews, as Constant Reader already knows, or should by now, is one of my favorite writers and her Meg Langslow series is also one of my favorites. This is the fourth Christmas book in the series (following Ducks the Halls, Six Geese a-Slayin’, and The Nightingale Before Christmas), each more charming than the last–which is no easy feat. Andrews’ ability to keep this series fresh with each successive volume–and witty–is the mark of a master. Meg loves Christmas; the charming Virginia hamlet of Caerphilly she calls home feels much the same way–to the point where it has turned into a Christmas tourist destination (in no small part due to Meg’s efforts).

This year, rather than having a staged reading of A Christmas Carol, starring Meg’s husband (a retired actor who now teaches at the local college, and also appeared on a television series that has remained a cult hit for decades), the town has decided to mount a full production,  starring Malcolm Haver, a has-been actor who also starred in a television series back in the 80’s, and has a small but devoted following, as Scrooge. Haver has a drinking problem, can’t remember his blocking and his lines, and is a little on the irascible side…but has an ironclad contract for run of the play. Meg and her friends have managed to ensure that no one in town will sell Haver alcohol–but he is still getting it somewhere; and that’s what kicks this clever whodunnit off.

As always, the charms of the town, the wonderful people that live there, and of course Meg’s own ability to face everything with a “how do I fix this” attitude and a clever line makes this a fine addition to the series, and as ever, all’s well that ends well in this Christmas visit to Caerphilly. A perfect read for the Christmas season.