Thursday, June 06, 2019

#ThrowbackThursday- John Verney

I have long collected teen literature from the 1950s and 60s-- it's one type of book with which I cannot bear to part! Of course, when I was approached to review these two books, I had to say yes! I asked Mara, the publicist at Paul Dry, why the company decided to reprint these. Here is her response:

"A Paul Dry Books customer actually suggested that we look into John Verney’s out-of-print books. Paul Dry (our publisher) hadn’t heard of him before so he tracked down what he could and really enjoyed them. He decided to re-issue Verney’s two war memoirs, Going to the Wars and A Dinner of Herbs, first in January 2019 followed by Verney’s first two children’s books in April 2019.

The New Criterion recently wrote a nice review of Verney’s war memoirs, with a lot of information about him. 

This was a really helpful obituary in the Independent.

As far as we can tell, John Verney wasn’t widely read in the US, but he seems to have been a favorite author in the UK a few decades ago. Julia Eccleshare (former Children's Books editor for The Guardian) includedFriday’s Tunnel in her 1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up. The author Jojo Moyes (who is English) said Friday’s Tunnel was her favorite out-of-print book. I’ve also come across a handful of British and Australian book blogs that discuss Verney."

Verney, John. Friday's Tunnel
April 30th 2019 by Paul Dry Books (first published 1959)
Copy provided by the publisher

February Callendar's large family lives on a small holding in the English countryside. Her father is a renowned journalist who used to cover international incidents and has written several books, but to keep up with the demands of his family, has taken to writing local news. When political unrest bubbles to the surface in Capria, due to the discovery of an important metal, caprium, he is sent by the newspaper to investigate. From the beginning, things are suspicious-- the newspaper prints articles from him before he is even there, a comic strip seems to mimic what is going on, and a local businessman could be involved in some thefts. While their father is away, February and her brother Friday are home from boarding school and responsible for many tasks; milking the cow, watching their three younger siblings, and helping out their pregnant mother. Luckily, their father has sent the son of a friend, Robin, to be a tutor for Friday and general help. Friday is heavily involved in digging a tunnel on the extensive family property, and runs into a lot of bricks. The fact that these might be part of a well or edifice doesn't deter him. When their father's plane is shot down and the news explains that there are no survivors, Robin's father comes to tell the family, but everyone is oddly unconcerned. They all believe that he has survived, and given the amount of odd goings on, this seems reasonable. The children get more and more involved in the mystery, which ends with a surprising twist I don't want to ruin!
Strengths: I love vintage literature, and this was so different from everything I have read! For one thing, it is British, and was sort of like the Melendy family but with international intrigue! (I can just see Rush Melendy and Friday working on the tunnel together, and heavens know that Ms. Callender could have used someone like Cuffy to help her out!) February's voice seems very modern, even if her language and references are not (silver gobstopper, anyone?). The fictional backstory of Capria seems very relevant today. This was an interesting read. (Original cover at left.)
Weaknesses: This does have a different style to it that modern readers might not appreciate. Also, February does NOT break her pelvis and sustain the injuries she mentions in the beginning while involved with the mystery! That was oddly disappointing!
What I really think: The other reviews on Goodreads mention that the plot is a bit convoluted, and this is quite true. I think that is seems more complicated than it really is due to all of the political topics; I glossed over some because I wasn't that interested, but what I glossed over ended up being really important. This is similar to Stuart Gibbs modern work, and I can see how it would have been very popular back in the 1960s, since I've not read many mysteries or adventure books from that era and don't know what other titles similar to this were published.

Verney, John. February's Road (Callendars #2)
April 30th 2019 by Paul Dry Books (first published 1959)
Copy provided by the publisher

I found this one interesting because of the effect of the Pennsylvania Turnpike on my family's farm in the early 1950s. Sadly, I don't think the Clarks were involved in the kind of interesting mystery that February uncovers.

From Goodreads, because I am THAT behind. 

"Augustus Callendar, newspaper columnist and father of the zany Callendar family, has campaigned for years for the construction of modern roads in Britain, and he is delighted when the Ministry of Highways finally takes up the suggestion--until he learns that the first new highway will run right through the Callendar farm! February, the oldest daughter and chronicler of family events, is most unhappy at the prospect of losing the fields where she rides her horse, Gorse; and besides, she suspects that shady dealings have taken place. She snoops around and naturally lands all the Callendars in a mess."

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