Friday, June 5, 2020

The Accidental Countryside - Stephen Moss

This was the last book I bought before bookshops locked down, it felt appropriate then, and even more so now - almost 3 months later. The subtitle is 'Hidden Havens for Britain's Wildlife' and I'd describe the book as a sort of manifesto for how we can make space for wildlife in relatively urban settings and the benefits that has all round.

It's very much preaching to the converted in my case, to the point that the only criticisms I have are that this is a book that could really do with an index, and if not an index at least a bibliography, or list of further reading.

What we do get is a comprehensive list of places (railway embankments, roadside verges, old gravel pits, and similar odds and ends of land) and some of the work that's being done with them to create wildlife reserves, or otherwise create space for nature. When it works it's brilliant, although sadly for a lot of these spaces their status is fairly unofficial and they can be easily lost to development.

There's also a persuasive argument for building on greenbelt rather than brownfield land. We have a fixed perception, particularly in England (the debate is somewhat different in Scotland, I don't know enough about Wales) that farmland and countryside are more or less synonymous, and that farmland is a good place for wildlife. The reality is that a lot of farmland is an industrialised monoculture that actively discourages natural diversity (messy, machine cut hedges which are full of gaps are an example of this that I particularly dislike).

It's also true that people in cities need more access to green spaces, so why not start putting them in cities where the people are? Quite apart from anything else it's a brilliant way to build an interest in wildlife, and help people learn how to be around it. The point is made a couple of times that a nature reserve is not the same thing as a park.

I'm lucky in Leicester in that the council have taken a light touch approach to the riverside and parks around me. They're maintained in such a way that they feel safe for human use, but with enough bits left untended to encourage a decent range of birds and insects. We also have Bradgate Park about 5 miles north of the city centre. It was once the home of Lady Jane Grey, and there's still a Mulberry tree in the grounds of the now ruined house that was meant to have been a gift from Raleigh. There's also belladonna growing in odd corners. It's another landscape which is expertly managed to provide space for people and wildlife (although perhaps more accurately deliberate rather than accidental countryside).

We could be luckier though, there's a biggish redevelopment of part of the riverside going on at the moment which is going to be housing, but could have been something else altogether that might have been a significant draw into the city.

Getting back to the book, Moss also looks at the impact humans have had on the landscape since ancient times, and how we've created, as well as destroyed, habitats. One of the first he discusses is the Broch on Mousa in Shetland. Storm Petrels use it's walls as a nesting sight, somewhere they're well protected from predating gulls. There's an irony here in that the Broch's ancient inhabitants very probably used these birds as candles (they're very oily, the details are not pretty and can't have smelt pleasant), their descendants certainly did well into the 19th century.  The way peregrines are colonising cities comes with no such associations and is something that I find deeply hopeful.

That sense of hope runs through 'The Accidental Countryside', over and over there are examples of things that can be done to make space for nature. They range from the simple and cost effective option of reducing how much verges are mown to new housing estates building in genuinely wildlife friendly measures (which can add value so it's not asking very much of developers to do more of it).

A consistent theme throughout lockdown is how important, and helpful, so many of us have found observing more of the nature on our doorsteps, which is why this book feels so relevant to this moment.

 Bradgate, where the dog couldn't fathom how laid back the ducks were (kept responsibly on a lead at all times). The deer in the bottom picture are in an area that people are kept out of. They have the whole of the park to roam, but there are sanctuary areas throughout too.

Wednesday, June 3, 2020

The Seafarers by Stephen Rutt - Out in Paperback

The Seafarers, A Journey Among Birds is out in paperback tomorrow. I read this book at more less this time last year (early July to be specific) when I'd just come back from Shetland. It's a world that seems a lifetime ago; I had a job but would learn I was being made redundant a couple of weeks later, and was desperate for change. The changes 2020 have bought aren't really the sort that I'd have chosen, but relative isolation has had some upsides and at least one of those started with this book.

I liked bird watching as a kid, but it was a hobby that fell by the wayside when we moved to Leicestershire (the logistics were more complicated and other things came along) even if I never lost the basic interest. Reading 'The Seafarers' last summer was a gentle reminder of something I was missing, and since reading it I've been paying more attention not just to the wildlife around me, but also to the debates around it.

The increased awareness of the birdlife around me has been a gift, especially this spring. I think it's a gift that a lot of us have been grateful for, and I hope that it will feed into an increased consideration of, and protection for, wildlife generally - it just might. Though it's anybody's guess if that will be enough.

Anyway - if you missed The Seafarers first time round it's a wonderful book by a really gifted writer at the start of what promises to be a really interesting career. I lent my copy of 'The Seafarers' to my partner so it's locked down out of my reach at the moment and I can't do much more than read my original review of it here. If money wasn't such an issue I'd buy myself the papaerback to refer back to. It'd be useful right now as I've been reading Stephen Moss's 'The Accidental Countryside' and I'd like to do a better comparison of some of the thinking between them.

There are a few things that made this book so special that are worth repeating. The choice of species to focus on - many of them are birds that we take for granted a bit, but a focus on Razorbills rather than Puffins when you want to examine the plight of auks generally is arguably more illuminating.

It would also have been easy to make this a book that focused on mental health, a subject that's touched on, but which remains an underlying theme - it's most definitely not another book that promises redemption or recovery in wild places, though it does show that a shift in perspective or priorities can be really helpful. I know that the point that I really fell for this book was in the ways that Rutt acknowledges the privileges that open these spaces for him. Again, it's done lightly, and I only noticed it because it's absent from a lot of the other nature writing I've read.

Finally it's the sheer range of issues, ideas, and anecdotes that are covered that makes this book such a joy to read. It was one of my books of the year for good reasons.  

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

Japanese Ghost Stories - Lafcadio Hearn

I saw something about this book last summer, bought it, and have been dipping in and out of it ever since. There's been a sort of synchronicity about Hearn for me since then - having never heard of him before his name has kept popping up, so much so that I'm wondering why I'd never heard of him before now.

He's a fascinating character in his own right; born on the Ionian island of Lefkada in 1850 his mother was Greek, his father Irish. The family moved back to Ireland but the marriage failed, in 1854 his mother returned home alone and Hearn was raised by his great aunt, his father was posted to India in 1857, remarried and Hearn never saw him again. Hearn is sent to school in England until his aunt is financially ruined (it's quite Dickensian at this point) and he lives in the East end of London in reduced circumstances for a couple of years. 

In 1869 he arrives in Cincinnati and embarks on a career in journalism. He illegally marries a former slave - which doesn't work out, but his career does and in 1890 he arrives in Japan with a vague understanding with his publisher that he would provide material for them. He breaks with them but remains in Japan until he dies from heart disease in 1904. He marries again there and has a family, a teaching career at a couple of universities as well as his writing, and takes Japanese citizenship. 

It's a full life by any standard. The stories he collected in Japan are seen as classics in their own right, infused with his own memories of Irish superstition from his early childhood. I don't know enough about either the Japanese tradition or Irish folklore to see where one ends and the other begins so I'm taking the word of Paul Murray who has edited and introduced this collection. 

The introduction, chronology, suggested further reading, and notes are all admirable though. I can be lazy about reading introductions but this one was more than worth the effort, not least because a lot of the stories have a vampiric element to them and there's an interesting discussion about how that sits with what's happening in European fiction at the same time. 

There's a mix of stories here, some belonging firmly to a horror genre, others not so much but still dealing with the supernatural. They're all concise and elegant, Hearn is also a master of the eerie. It's a rich and wonderful collection that I've been enjoying a lot recently. There's something about the long twilight of summer that really suits stories like this. When the half light makes it possible to half believe almost anything. Twilight also suits the underlying melancholy of some of these stories whilst thoroughly accentuating the horror of others.

It's an excellent collection, and a really well put together edition. I really recommend it.  

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Gill Meller's Root Stem Leaf Flower - a developing love story

The news is grim again, and I'm not ignoring it, but I feel quite strongly that the best thing I can say about what's happening, especially in America is to read, witness, and listen. 

Meanwhile the opportunity to take socially distanced walks with people, or sit in a park, has done my mental health a world of good. The flowers that a very kind friend bought with her yesterday were a truly tremendous gift, and all of it is a reminder that there are good people, and good things in the world.

Another one of those good things turns out to be Gill Meller's new book 'Root Stem Leaf Flower'. I loved 'Gather' and liked 'Time', which I'm now thinking I need to seriously revisit. It didn't make much anything like the impact that either of the other two have (Gather had the same really special feeling about it that Root Stem Leaf Flower has right from first look) but that might be as much to do with how low being in a difficult work situation made me feel for the last couple of years (redundancy has made a few things uncomfortably clear).

Regardless, I'd been looking forward to 'Root Stem Leaf Flower' enough to feel okay about spending money on it (anyone else feeling weird about doing this now? It seems to go deeper than just the joblessness with me at the moment.) but as it turned up just before a zoom catch up on Friday evening I didn't even think to open it until late on in the evening as bed time reading. It kept me up.

It was the very bookish equivalent of meeting someone for the first time, speaking for hours, and feeling that this was meant to be. (It happens a lot more with books than it does people). The first indication that this is going to be serious came with the picture of some borage - I hadn't even reached the title page. I checked and Andrew Montgomery has done the photography for all 3 of Meller's books. It's obvious with the food shots and the portraits of Meller, and it's always nice work; the dishes look good and there's a sense that they belong to someone's home and garden (grass is a common background). Here though there's an image for each sub section, and they are beautiful. 

I'm not normally a fan of what I think of excess photography in cookbooks, until now my only real exception has been for Regula Ysewijn's books, and that's partly been because they're her images with her food, and the whole package becomes something more than its parts. Anyway, I'm happy to have my prejudices shattered, and these pictures make me feel like I'm looking at something as prosaically every day as an onion as if it's for the first time, and something I need to have immediately. Which is exciting, and I really don't think it's just a case of lockdown fatigue.

It's a vegetarian book, a category that I continue to but with good intentions but quite often not much follow through, but again I'm reading these recipes and not only thinking I want to eat them, but for once not thinking of these things as side dishes. There are also ideas that I'm going to apply to meat dishes - tonight's dinner was a sort of lasagne with sliced courgette rather than pasta, I'll be making the properly vegetarian version asap, but tonight I had other things that needed using. The courgette slices were a revelation.

There will be a proper review of this book soon, but right now it's new love and I couldn't wait to shout about it. 

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Surfeit of Suspects - George Bellairs

I'm quite tempted to have a proper binge on British Library Crime Classics - and really there's nothing to stop me apart from a knitting project, and it's getting a bit to hot to eye that with any real enthusiasm.

The first Bellairs I read from this series was 'Death of a Busybody' (3 years ago on holiday in Shetland - it feels like a carefree lifetime ago, we tried to swim in the sea, but it was breath stoppingly cold). I remember liking the book in a general sort of way, but not more than that. 'Surfeit of Suspects' is in a different league for me, largely because it deals with dodgy post war property speculation.

My grandfather did pretty well out of the post war building boom, he started off building a couple of houses with a mate then getting retrospective planning permission for them and went on from there. He was also adept at spotting land that would be a good investment for future building plots, and was happy to hold onto it for decades until it's time came. He had a host of stories about dodgy deals, and underhand doings from his time in the trade.*

The murder in 'Surfeit of Suspects' isn't particularly interesting or mysterious. There's an explosion at the Excelsior Joinery Company in Evingden one winters night. It kills 3 of the company directors, 2 of them seem to have been fairly harmless older men that nobody could have had a problem with, the 3rd appears to have been the intended target.

What is interesting is the setting and the shenanigan's which are revealed. Evingden is turning into a satellite town for London. Development is happening at a fast and furious pace and the whole place is being transformed at an alarming rate. There are a handful of business men who seem to have quite a lot more money than they ought to, and it's not to hard to work out that their dealings haven't been entirely straight.

I see from the back blurb that George Bellairs was the pen name of Harold Blundell, who was a prominent banker and philanthropist from Manchester. It seems likely to me that he was more than familiar with (and rightly disapproving of) the sharp practices and downright illegality of the business practices he describes here. There's also a sense of dismay at the pace of change that's coming to the high streets of towns like Evingden, and downright dislike for the stockbroker Tudor monstrosities of his nouveau riche.

There's also an interesting section where Inspector Littlejohn heads off to interview some old money. The taste it displays might be impeccable, but there's still a sense of distaste for those who have (quite legitimately) sold up in good time and can live in comfort, whilst the poor saps who bought up are struggling with a failing and outdated business.

You can treat at this book as a nostalgic look at an England that's changing. It was published in 1964 and Martin Edwards in his introduction suggests it looks back to an earlier time, feels like it could be inhabiting an earlier time, but I don't quite agree with this. To me it seems very much a book of the 1960's. Bellairs might not view what's happening in town centres up and down the country with any particular enthusiasm, but the kind of development he describes is so very much part of its era and no other. You can see the results of it in shabby small town high streets everywhere, looking every bit of their age now that change has caught up with them again and we all shop online.

I liked this one a lot.

*I don't want to make him sound like a crook, but it would probably be accurate to say he took a Dominic Cummings approach to rules at a time, and in a business, where that wasn't frowned on in the way it would be now.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Mary Prior's Russian Rhubarb Cake

Thanks to the increasingly vague lockdown/isolation rules I've finally seen D (for the first time since the 14th of March) - we went for a walk in the park, no hugging, but I gave him his birthday kep and he gave me some rhubarb.

It's been one of the things I've really missed through lockdown, I don't know why* this particularly - I don't generally eat a lot of it, but nowhere near me has sold it. The modest handful of sticks I got where a bit on the dry side so there was no time to waste in cooking them so I headed straight for Mary Prior's 'Rhubarbaria' book.

Mary Prior was a formidable historian who I vaguely remember meeting once or twice as her daughter was a close neighbour in Shetland. Ann died, much to young from cancer, a few years ago. She was a birder, writer, traveller, and fabulous cook. She contributed quite a few recipes to this book, opening it is like meeting an old friend albeit in far to fleeting way.

After a bit of searching I settled on the Russian Rhubarb cake that Mary had lifted from George and Cecilia Scurfield's 'Home-made Cakes and Biscuits' from 1963. They sound like a remarkable couple. There's also an old fashioned lack of precision about this recipe, and Mary suggest adding orange to it, so I felt entirely at liberty to make my own changes to it as well.

This started with halving the quantities, the original cake would have been huge and was meant to be cooked in a large baking tray. My smaller version went into an 8 inch round tin which seems about right. The oven temperature 200C, 400F, or Gas 6, seemed suspiciously high and the cooking time of 45 minutes quite long - in my fan oven it cooked well at 170c for 30 minutes, but both the quantity and the juiciness of the rhubarb would probably change this.

I also mixed the flour with semolina to give a little bit more texture to the crumb, and to soak up some of the liquid I might normally expect from rhubarb. I don't know if there's anything specifically Russian about this cake, but it's easy to throw together, has a pleasing tartness to it, and still slightly warm with a bit of cream is positively smart.

Line your cake tin and turn the oven on, then you want 1 ounce of semolina and 5 ounces of self raising flour (having not used self raising flour for a long time I'm really enjoying having it back in my kitchen), 1.5 teaspoons of baking powder, 4.5 ounces of castor sugar, 4.5 ounces of softened butter, 2 eggs, and the grated rind of an orange. Put all of these in a bowl and beat for a couple of minutes. Spread the mix into the cake tin.

Mary says use 9 sticks of rhubarb, enough for 3 cups, for her large version, which is fine if you're growing the stuff, unhelpful for a shopping list. I had about 4 skinny sticks which filled a cup with some left over. Stupidly I forgot to weigh it, but given it's a fairly rustic cake a little more or less isn't going to matter very much.

Having eyed up the available rhubarb, chop into smallish slices, top the cake taking care to make sure that not to much of it ends up in the middle, and then sprinkle generously with demerara sugar. Cook it, and then allow to cool before eating.

Rhubarbaria is available from Prospect Books and other retailers, it's well worth having if you like rhubarb.

*It is possible that it's because I started a Shetland Soap Company Rhubarb and Rose scented soap, called Havera, which actually smells like rhubarb and roses. With all the hand washing it's maybe not surprising I keep thinking of rhubarb.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

The Ishbel Shawl - A Knitting Post

This governments ability to fill me with paralysing anger, dismay, and fear for the future is quite something. It's certainly more than enough to scupper any chance of writing something coherent about Lafcadio Hearn's 'Japanese Ghost Stories', to let me concentrate on a book, or even to do much on my current knitting project which demands solid concentration. So another knitting post it is.

I've bought quite a few patterns over the lockdown period. It's a small thing that I can do to support designers and to cheer myself up with a bit of inspiration. It's helping me get my yarn stash back under control too - so it's all good.

The Ishbel is a Ysolda Teague design, the second shawl/scarf of hers I've made, and there are a few others that I have an eye on. Her instructions are clear, and the couple that I've made so far have been easy going knits that create really pleasing results. They're perfect for just past the basics knitters who wants to make something that looks really impressive, and the right combination of undemanding but interesting for me (not that far beyond the basics).

This pattern comes with instructions for a couple of sizes, doesn't use a huge amount of yarn - the patterns says 550m of lace or fingering (4 ply) weight for the larger size. There's no reason not to add a few more repeats of the lace pattern for a really large shawl, but I like the official 'Large' size as a handy thing to throw over your shoulders or around your neck. I used Jamieson's of Shetland Ultra* lace weight in Sunburst and Petunia and have something that's both really light and quite warming. It'd work well as a scarf on a cold day, but is elegant enough to be a smarter accessory when wanted.

*I think it used rather less than 55m, I have more than enough yarn left to make matching mitts - Anne Eunson's Lunna Mitts might work well

Friday, May 22, 2020

A Fair Isle Friday Round Up

It's the start of a bank holiday weekend, which never meant much to me in the past because bank holidays are not a feature of life in retail, and doesn't mean much now because of whatever stage of lockdown this is. I think it might mean something to my neighbour because he's hammering something with gusto and thanks to the interesting examples of flanking transmission throughout our building it sounds and feels like he's hammering next to me, not 5 rooms and a whole lot of walls back.

Less noisy bank holiday inspiration has been all over Instagram today as knitting projects have been popping up all over my feed (I've seen some beauties), and there's been some other good knitting based news over the last couple of days too.

Knitting has really helped me sit out this lockdown home alone. It keeps me busy, makes me feel like I've done something productive, and occupies enough of my mind to stop me brooding. It's also been something I've managed to concentrate on when nothing else would hold my attention for very long at all. Thank god for hobbies.

My knitting interests are almost exclusively based around Fair Isle and Shetland lace knitting. I love doing the colour work, and am fascinated by the lace. I can't say that any of this comes particularly naturally to me, I'm a clumsy, slow, knitter -  but I think that only improves the satisfaction when I crack something, and I really value the link to Shetland that using local wool and exploring local knitting traditions gives me.

The first bit of good news is that although Shetland Wool Week has been cancelled, the annual will still be produced. The annuals have been an excellent mix of patterns and essays. They tend to include something for everyone from relative beginners to really competent knitters and are an excellent introduction to a range of designers working in Shetland or closely connected to it. Their website is here and is well worth a look. It's also really worth signing up to the newsletter - it isn't junk mail, and the one I got yesterday had recipes, interviews, some lovely images, and links to other things worth exploring (as well as the good news about the annual).

The Promote Shetland site is more general - and worth following on Instagram, there's also a draw to win £100 worth of Uradale organic yarn that's open to the 1st of June and has to be worth a punt.

Misa Hay who is easily one of the most energetic and creative people I've ever met has announced that she's launching a journal which is more good news for me. It will feature patterns, recipes, walks, stories, and more. It's something I'm really looking forward to seeing. You can follow her on Instagram at Shetland Wool Adventures and My Shetland Garden which I'd recommend just for the pictures, never mind all the other inspiration.

On the subject of Newsletters I'd also recommend Gudrun Johnston's Shetland Trader (her Insta is here). She's brilliant, and I particularly like the way she references her Shetland heritage in a contemporary way. Her mother was a really distinctive designer working in Shetland in the 70s and Gudrun's next book (sadly delayed) is going to have updated versions of some of her mothers designs. This again is really exciting stuff - so much so that I'm even including a picture of myself aged about 3 in a Shetland Trader dress.

Hazell Tindell, who is the world's fastest knitter, is also worth following on Instagram (this list could go on and on), she's really good at showing the process she uses to design things, and talks about the occasional mistakes and miss steps she makes along the way which I find really interesting.

Finally for this round up, I've pre ordered Mati Ventrillon's 'Knitting From Fair Isle' due out in September. This would originally have coincided with wool week and I'm hoping publication doesn't get pushed back. Ventrillon's colour and pattern combinations were copied by Chanel a few years ago (who quickly apologised and credited her). Again her work is both traditional and contemporary as well as distinctive so this book should be a treat. Details here.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Tales of the Tattooed, an Anthology of Ink - edited by John Miller

I've been curious about this collection since I first saw it announced, but spider's give me the creeps - even on book covers, so this one got covered by other books quite quickly and has languished for weeks more than it might have done if I wasn't such an arachnophobe. 

Incidentally, the story that inspires the cover is probably the creepiest in the book even if you don't mind spiders, the creepiness derived from a sadistic eroticism which I found queasily disquieting. Otherwise what makes the tales weird is simply the presence of tattoos and the implications they bring.

I think I was vaguely aware that there had been a Victorian high society vogue for tattoos (it didn't surprise me to read about it anyway) amongst women as well as men, but there are a few stories that touch on this. There are more that pick up the links between tattoos and people living on the margins of society - sailors who come and go, criminal gangs, and secret society's. There's also a fascination with the Japanese tradition of tattooing, and Pacific island traditions.

Miller takes care to flag the problematic nature of how Maori tattoos are appropriated in 'The Green Phial' from 1884 both in the general introduction, and the individual story introduction - which is another plus for this collection. The introduction is really interesting, more than worth reading. It raises a host of interesting questions about how we think about, and have thought about, tattoos as well as providing some suggestions for further reading. The individual introductions are excellent for context, and both together make this much more than just an amusing collection of stories.

If amusement is what you're after though there are some gems here - W. W. Jacobs 'A Marked Man' is a particular favourite. I can't describe it without spoiling it, but there's drink, and sailors, and a scam that goes wrong, and it's a delight. There's a Saki story too, which is always a treat, and in this case forms a nice pair with a Roald Dahl effort which is the nicely macabre note the book ends with. 

My absolute favourite story would be Albert Payson Terhune's 'Branded'. In it a truly unpleasant man has who bullies the wife he married for her money (only to discover she doesn't have any) has taken a violent dislike to his prospective sister in law because she doesn't have any money either. He tries to catch her in an indiscretion but is foiled on every front by an excellent display of female solidarity.

The best thing about this book for me though was that it tugged at my imagination in a way that little else has over the last few weeks, and it was so good to feel that excitement again. The Tales of the Weird series has been good from the start ('Lost in a Pyramid' is a collection of stone cold genius) and Tales of the Tattooed is now firmly one of my favourites within it. 

It also looks like you can get a copy with sprayed edged from The British Library Shop which is frankly the icing on the cake.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

The Disappearance of Signora Giulia - Piero Chiara

Translated by Jill Foulston

It took me a few pages to get into The Disappearance of Signora Giulia, it was first published in 1970, and if the past is a foreign country this 1970 felt further away than the Milan of the 1930's from 'The Mystery of The Three Orchids'. I thought at first it was because the book was in translation that it initially felt stilted, but as I got into it I realised it was more to do with the slang of the era.

Not that slang is quite the right word, but there's the definite feel of a classic Martini or Cinzano advert about some of the background details. They're balanced against the police man going home for his lunch time spaghetti every day - and although this may still be the custom in well to do Italian suburban towns, that too carries a sense of a different time.

Detective Sciancalepre is minding his own business when his friend, the prominent criminal lawyer, Esengrini comes to see him, saying that his wife has run away. Signora Giulia is quite a bit younger than her husband, beautiful, and in the habit of visiting her daughter at her school in Milan every Thursday. This time she's left with her room in a mess, clothes and jewelry gone.

Esengrini reveals without much visible sign of upset that he's had his wife followed and has reason to believe she's having an affair. He wants her retrieved so that they can try to rebuild their marriage. The details here make it clear that the expectations, and law, in 1970's Catholic Italy around marriage are unfamiliar to me. Sciancalepre's investigations come to a dead end though, which surprises him. His expectation is that a woman leaving her husband and child will always get back in touch with some friend to discover what the fall out has been, and Signora Giulia does not.

There's also a growing coolness between Sciancalepre and Esengrini, and between Esengrini and his daughter who will inherit the sizable house when she comes of age. Years pass, and then suddenly a clue to what happened to Signora Giulia emerges - but who is responsible for what happened, and will it ever be possible for Sciancalepre to prove his suspicions?

This is a clever story that wrong footed me in a couple of places - a relationship that looked like it might be really seedy turns out not to be, and there's plenty of the ambiguity that I love in a mystery like this. Sciancalepre is an unexpectedly appealing character - steady, methodical, intelligent, uncomplicated, and I really liked the final twist.

From the moment I got that mental image of a Martini ad the whole thing came alive for me in a really vivid way too. Highly recommended.