As I finished Tom Holt’s book Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Sausages and placed it down on the table I happened to glance at the back cover and immediately snatched it up again. ‘No!’ I exclaimed to my inamorata. ‘But how thrilling! Mr Holt has written two more Lucia novels!’ I hastened to the website of my favourite bookseller to order them post haste; then I hurried into town to spread the news. ‘Bit late, Elizabeth,’ observed quaint Irene with a puff on her pipe. ‘They came out in 1985. Ha!’ and she turned on her heel and left. Was she alone in the knowledge? Alas, no – every citizen of Tilling had long been apprised of these additional volumes and Mr and Mrs Wyse had gone to the lengths of ordering special leather-bound volumes to go with the rest of their collection. Feeling slightly dashed, I returned home to await the delivery of said books in order to complete my education.
It is indeed true, and why I didn’t know it until now I can’t say, but Tom Holt has written a pair of additional volumes in the Mapp and Lucia series. E F Benson died in 1940 leaving his characters utterly bereft, and Holt came to the rescue. The question was, could he do them justice? I opened Lucia in Wartime in some trepidation, but I need not have worried: the answer is that yes, he could – and did; in fact I annoyed OH so much with my laughter that the earbuds were brought into play. The books are glorious. Tilling lives again; the shops where gossip is exchanged, the corner house called Mallards (in reality Lamb House where both Benson and Henry James lived), Twistevants the grocer’s, Hopkins the fishmongers, quaint Irene’s Taormina and Glebe, where Elizabeth Mapp is forced to live having had to sell Mallards with much grinding and gnashing of teeth to her arch-rival Lucia. The central feature of these stories is of course the rivalry between these two and the delicious balance in which Lucia, by virtue of having a (slightly) larger soul, always wins in the end. All the comedy of the original style is kept – tiny events being described in terms of a Homeric epic – and all in all I thoroughly enjoyed both Lucia in Wartime and Lucia Triumphant. Only two things are missing: why do the characters not, as they always did, use au reservoir as a valediction? And what on earth has happened to Mistress Mapp’s little piggies which she always greeted in the morning if Withers was present and counted as soon as Withers had left? I think we should be told.
PS No! But how thrilling! I’ve just discovered a third, a novella. I must order it immediately.