All I need to be entertained are cats within ear-scratching distance and a good book . . .OK, maybe that's not ALL I need, but it's a good start.

I love to read. And I love to get recommendations for books to read.

I started Cats and a Book to share the books I read with others. Some I love, some I don't, but you may love the ones I don't, so you're welcome to post your own comments and suggestions.

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Happy reading!

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Miss Hargreaves, by Frank Baker

Miss Hargreaves, by Frank Baker, is a psychological thriller, the story of a harmless prank gone bad, with implications for larger questions about human existence. The book’s protagonist is Norman Huntley, the son of an eccentric bookshop owner in Cornford, England. Huntley plays the organ for services at the local church and was otherwise something of a bon vivant character from a Wodehouse Jeeves book, having a taste for mischief (he admits to having “a fanciful imagination”) but without the ready funds.

The mystery begins when Norman and his friend Henry decide to take a vacation to Ireland. During a sudden storm, they stumble upon an old church. Since Norman is a church organist, he has passing interest in the old building, and they find a sexton to allow them inside. Once there, the sexton mentions the name of the former reverend Mr. Archer. It is at this point that Norman invents an old friend of the reverend’s, on what his father calls a “Spur of the Moment,” named “Miss Hargreaves.” Norman and Henry goad each other into making Miss Hargreaves more and more quirky, claiming that she played the harp, had a cockatoo named Dr. Pepusch and a dog named Sarah, and that the former pastor gave her a bathtub as a gift. They are highly amused by this stubbornly eccentric character they created, and after a visit to the local pub, even posted a letter to the elderly woman inviting her to visit.

When a telegram arrived from “Miss Hargreaves” after they returned home, Norman was certain someone, probably Henry, was playing an elaborate joke on him. A book of her poems, (called “Wayside Bundle”) which he also invented in his conversation in Ireland, then appears in his dad’s bookstore, and Norman becomes annoyed, thinking that someone has taken the joke too far. When Miss Hargreaves actually arrives for her visit, Norman questions his sanity. What began as a boyish lark quickly becomes a consuming and controlling incursion into his life.

The narrative drags a bit as Norman wrestles with the existence of Miss Hargreaves, and in particular, her growing influence on his family, his girlfriend, and his town. But, the intriguing plot carries the book along, so that readers feel satisfied with its conclusion.

Miss Hargreaves was first published in 1940 and most recently reprinted by Bloomsbury USA in 2010.

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