Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
The Complete Stories, Dorothy L. Sayers
The Art Forger, B.A. Shapiro
Talking About Detective Fiction, P.D. James
As the snowstorm gained force on Friday night, I snuggled with my dogs on the couch and began “The Undignified Melodrama of the Bone of Contention,” a short detective story in which Lord Peter Wimsey investigates an apparition witnessed by a country cottager. The haunted man describes a death coach: “Four horses they was . . . [pulling] a big, heavy coach, with no lights on it, but shinin’ all of itself, with a colour like moonshine . . .”
I finally crept up to bed to continue my steady, satisfactory progress through Anna Karenina, just as Levin sees a very welcome vision:
“What’s that? Someone coming,” he thought, catching the tinkle of bells, and lifting his head. Forty paces from him a carriage with four horses harnessed abreast was driving towards him along the grassy road on which he was walking. The shaft-horses were tilted against the shafts by the ruts, but the dexterous driver sitting on the box held the shaft over the ruts, so that the wheels ran on the smooth part of the road.
The storm abated on Saturday, but with a driving ban still in effect, it was another ideal day for reading as a respite from shoveling. I began The Art Forger, a contemporary art-theft thriller centered around Boston’s Gardner Museum. The novel includes a series of (imagined) letters from Isabella Stewart Gardner, the museum’s idiosyncratic founder, recounting her turn-of-the-last-century conquests of the cultural elite. In passing, she mentions: “We, of course, discussed art and literature, particularly how much Henry [James] dislikes Trollope’s Framley Parsonage . . .”
Although I read Barchester Towers a long time ago and started The Eustace Diamonds recently (abandonning it in favor of Anna), I’d never before encountered this Trollope title (not surprising, considering how prolific he was). So imagine my surprise when, later on Saturday night, P.D. James, in Talking About Detective Fiction, cited the same book as an example of the importance of setting in fiction: “Anthony Trollope said of Framley Parsonage that he had added to the English counties, that he knew its roads and railways, its towns and parishes . . .”
Such are the pleasurable echoes that arise from reading multiple books across the ages, the genres, the continents.