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Sunday, January 12, 2014

One May Smile by Penny Freedman

Are you drawn to a title that you recognize as a famous quote?  Even more intrigued if the quote is less well-known?

Authors love to use famous literary lines as titles, and it certainly works in my case, as I find titles have a huge influence on my initial interest in a book. Shakespeare and the Bible probably top the list as examples of plundered titles, but I find John Donne has been a favorite source for titles as well.

Many mystery authors are well-read and full of allusions.  My favorite writer in the mystery genre is/was Reginald Hill, who could allude with such subtlety and skill.  

I find it hard to resist when I see a title like Val McDermid's Mermaids Singing referencing Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock " (who may have borrowed "mermaids singing" from John Donne) or Peter Robinson's In a Dry Season from Eliot's "Gerontion."  

Truthfully, I'm always susceptible to a novel that uses a quote I recognize as a title.  Faulkner made great use of the Bible, Shakespeare, and Homer for titles; certainly proved successful for him. A few other well-known authors who have cadged titles from quotes include Agatha Christie, P.D. James, Hemingway, Maugham, Steinbeck, and Flannery O'Connor. 

No surprise then that I was drawn to this mystery by the title and by the cover which (I believe) comes from a still from Olivier's Hamlet.

One May Smile is an engaging mystery featuring Gina Gray--linguist and Oxford lecturer, mother and grandmother--who finds herself as wardrobe mistress to a bunch of Oxford students with plans for a production of Hamlet.  Initially, Gina found herself looking forward to the trip to Denmark and to Elsinore where the play was to be staged, but when she finds that she must take her three-year-old granddaughter, her planned romantic interlude with DCI David Scott falls apart.

When one of the students is killed in a car accident, Gina can't help but speculate about all of her previous observations of the students and their relationships, and she finds herself drawn into the investigation.  Using her background in linguistics, she examines language, emails, and text for clues.  

The writing is witty and amusing.  The chapters are mostly from Gina's pov, but later DCI Scott, Gina's love interest, inserts his own opinions.  No gory or shocking violence. 

An engaging protagonist and a satisfying read.

NetGalley/Troubadour Publ.

Mystery.  Nov. 2013.  Print version: 207 pages.


  1. I don't read enough classics to make half of the connections....

  2. This looks like a book I would like, but I have to admit my ability to recognize classic quotes in titles is sorely lacking.

  3. I didn't know that about Peter Robinson's book! Very cool. This does sound like a good mystery.

  4. Kelly - I'm not sure why I can recognize a line of poetry or a famous quote. If I see it, I know I've seen it before, and usually, but not always the source. On the other hand, I can't recall them easily unless I see them. Same with books. I might not be able to come up with the title of a book I read last night, but if I see it written, I usually know I've read it even if it was years ago.

    Teresa - I liked the mystery for a number of reasons...including Gina's age. :)

    Iliana - I wish I'd kept track over the years of the titles of mysteries that are from quotes. Science fiction authors often do the same.

  5. I think I would miss most of the connections too, but I do love a good title. Some definitely catch my eye more than others do.

    I like the sound of One May Smile, both as a title, and as a book. :-)

  6. Wendy - "One may smile and smile and be a villain" has long been a favorite quote. Old Claudius was a smiler, but Hamlet knew better than to trust him!

  7. So many of Agatha Christie's titles are drawn from bookish references - most of which I didn't 'get' at all when I first read them as a teen. I am attracted to that sort of quoting a lot (if I recognise it!).

  8. vicki - I often know it is a quote, but not where I've read it. Google is such a great instant research tool! I'm reading a book now (The Hatch and Brood of Time), and I knew it was Shakespeare, but not which play. Googled it: Henry IV, Act III, Scene 1.

    There are so many that will go unacknowledged because I don't even recognize the title as a quote!