More Ava Lee

The third Ava Lee novel, The Wild Beasts of Wuhan, finally turned up and I guess I have not to mind it took so long since it came from California. So then I read that and The Red Pole of Macau in 24 hours and now I’m back to ‘what am I going to read?’ You’d think I would learn.

They were both very different, which is something I’m appreciating about this series. In The Wild Beasts of Wuhan, Ava is tracking down art forgers to recoup the money for her clients. That takes her from China to Europe to the Faroe Islands and back again; the amount of time she spends on ‘planes is exhausting just to read about. It’s a fairly complicated puzzle to unravel but of course, Ava does. That is not a foregone conclusion, though and I wonder if there’s a future novel where it all does go wrong?

The back story is also building across the novels, and in The Red Pole of Macau it’s that which is the starting point. Ava is Chinese-Canadian, the daughter of Marcus Lee and his second wife, Jennie. Marcus also has a third wife who lives in Australia with her children. Although all the families know of each other, they remain separate.

Marcus asks Ava to help Michael, his son with his first wife, and this draws Ava into a family financial mess. Michael is also heir and future head of the family, who will pick up the responsibility for looking after all three families when Marcus dies. Although, based on the evidence of this novel, Michael is no kind of business man and they’re SOL if that happens. Anyway, when it transpires he’s gotten into a very dubious investment with what turn out to be gangsters, Ava feels she has no choice but to get the money back. The alternative is that Marcus will bail him out and the entire extended family will suffer.

In effect, a couple of idiot men have screwed things up and a couple of smart women will have to sort it all out. And that’s what they do. Michael’s dumb ass business parter gets kidnapped and Ava spins Michael a line about how she’s going to get the ransom money together, all the while planning a nice, set piece rescue. For this, she gets help from May Ling, her client from the previous novel and a woman with an enormous amount of contacts and influence.

There’s not more violence in this book, but it’s of a different sort and it starts to take Ava down a different path. She always refers to herself as an accountant, although acknowledging that if the people from whom she is trying to reclaim money are recalcitrant, she’s prepared to have their fingers chopped off to help persuade them otherwise. But the action in this book leads to an execution.

There are 8 further novels so far, and copies of those are all probably in California as well. So I’m interested to see how Ava’s character development goes.

In audio land, I’m spending a lot of time in Wyoming, with Sheriff Walt Longmire. This is doing nothing to put me off the idea of going to Wyoming. Big, open country full of no-one, you say? Huh. Now that I’ve finally upgraded my OS again and have AppleTV, well boy howdy, I get access to the TV show too. And therein rings the death knell of Netflix again.


This week 3

It has been crazy hot weather this week, to the point where one day I just put on shorts and a t-shirt and remembered not to walk around on video calls. Thankfully the house gets a good cross-breeze and so benefits from any cool air going. Charlie has been out most of the time, apparently sleeping under a neighbour’s hedge with only his tail sticking out; but my poor Bellecat has been suffering in all her fluff and sleeping curled up in odd patches of shade.

I’ve been…

Reading – Persephone books, specifically books about houses. I don’t know why, except that it struck me that a lot of the Persephone list is a bit depressing and I couldn’t face anything bleak. The four novels I’ve read have all all been set early to mid 20th century, and they all feature families in transition. It strikes me that if I’d been born earlier in the 20th century I’d have had a grim time of it, not clever enough to get a scholarship and just intelligent enough to realise that there could be more to life than whatever ghastly office or shop opportunities presented themselves. Even if I’d been wealthy, I’d have been a disaster at the round of parties required by being launched into society. Horrors.

Although the Persephone books do also make you feel sorry for the male characters, so often married to fractious, helpless child-women. On the other hand, so often repressive, sexist, bullying and manipulative figures.

Bricks and Mortar – Helen Ashton. Which begins with young architect, Martin, travelling to Rome with the intention of studying the buildings there. Instead, he gets caught by a scheming old woman who is looking for a suitable husband for her fundamentally useless but very lovely daughter. So poor Martin gets trapped and the novel is about his life with Letty, his architectural practice and his daughter Stacy.

Greenbanks – Dorothy Whipple. Has a cast of unpleasant, but of their time male characters, and various women who are struggling to somehow live differently. The house, Greenbanks, is the family home, just about maintained by Louisa, the matriarch. One of her sons-in-law, who looks after her money for her, almost manages it away entirely. Another character called Letty finally inherits some money that will give her freedom at the age of 50; her daughter Rachel, born into a period when women had more freedoms anyway, gets to college and chooses love over familial duty.

The New House – Lettice Cooper. Set over one day (a device I always enjoy), in which a mother, daughter and their remaining servant are moving out of the family home to a smaller, manageable house. The old one is sold, its eventual fate undecided but likely to be either turned into a club or torn down and replaced with terraces. The move becomes a pivotal day for Rhoda, on the cusp of being the dutiful daughter and continuing to stay at home to look after her mother but recognising her last chance to find her own life.

Mariana – Monica Dickens. Not a ‘house’ story, but a coming of age tale that I hadn’t remembered being as wickedly funny as it is. It’s about the eponymous Mary as she grows up, struggles through school, suffers through a truly embarrassing time at theatre school and a near-miss engagement before everything comes good for her.

Sorting out plants – I had bought a planter at the beginning of lockdown and then got overwhelmed by plant choice. And then overwhelmed again by the total faff of re-planting into a planter. Finally, I made a decision, and now I have a parlour palm: air purifying, non-toxic and allegedly difficult to kill.


And a sneaky ivy as well, because I do like a trailing plant. The poem in the frame, by the way, is Adlestrop by Edward Thomas.


I’m inspired to get a few more plants too, but there’s more thinking and planning to be done first. So that’s a next month activity.

This week 2…

Go me with the creative titles. Anyway, I have been mostly…

Reorganising my study… because I had a make do storage thing that was formerly a vegetable rack but was holding stationery and the printer. All of a sudden I couldn’t bear it any more. I don’t use the printer much (once a week for printing out my Greek homework so I can then decode my tutor’s cryptic comments and try to correct my myriad errors) but it does need to be accessible. I have searched and searched for non-horrible storage units and they are to be found if you want to spend £4,000 on a vintage steamer trunk. Don’t tell me about Argos and Wayfair and Dunelm. I try. I really do. I just can’t. Instead, I have shoved the printer under the armchair, discovered an old wicker basket that is just the right size for printer paper, and a second that now holds all the chargers. I’ve topped off the small pile of wicker baskets with a vase of dried lavender.

Reorganising my kitchen… because simultaneous with being unable to bear my study, I couldn’t bear some of my kitchen storage either. There is a ridiculous narrow cupboard that was wide enough for one bottle of wine but I’ve moved baking trays and cooling racks into it, and my wine rack into the spot previously used by the baking trays and now it all makes much more sense. Bonus points to me because the wine rack was formerly in the study, and now there’s room up there for the floor lamp I will need when it starts to get dark earlier.

Finding a handyman… as we all know by now, I am useless for all practical purposes. This means that the small household fixes start to pile up until I find someone who can do them. And lo! I have found someone to change my wall lights, fix the oven door, fix the light behind the mirror in the bathroom and lay new flooring in the dressing room. Also, he gave exactly the advice I wanted about my fridge, which was to get rid of it.

Still re-reading… because I’m still waiting for that Ava Lee book to arrive. I read The Lark, by E. Nesbitt, which has reminded me that I should explore more of her adult novels. And I re-read The Godwulf Manuscript by Robert Parker, which has reminded me to put more effort into finding the rest of the Spenser novels. But it’s a bit like constantly snacking and I need a proper, mental three-course meal. Oh gods, is it time to try Proust again?