A door into a little-known European country

World Crime Atlas: the retirement project to read a crime novel set in every country in The Times Atlas of the World.


Death has a Thousand Doors, by Patricia Grey.

The plot: Jane Burns is an Australian accountant who is a recovering alcoholic with a troubled past. She arrives in Andorra for the winding-up of her grandfather’s multi million dollar trust, only to discover her photo-journalist half-sister Pearl has disappeared. Her aloof historian father Charles helps her search for Pearl, uncovering a web of financial mis-dealings, kidnapping and smuggling.

Where and when: The plot covers much of the small Pyrenean country. It is set in the late 1990s.

The Detectives: Juan-Antonio Ribera-Batista is a village policeman whose “dark eyes were searchlights sweeping over a well-kept moustache”. Detective Victor Ignacio is the senior policeman in charge of the investigation.

Sense of Place: Andorra is portrayed as a country of valleys and mountains in some richly descriptive passages, such as: “The vivid green pastures etched to the precipitous mountains on either side of the road made her eyes ache.” The plot bears the fruits of a lot of historical and general research. We are told that in the 13th century, Andorra became the first demilitarised zone in the world; or that it is the oldest country in western Europe with unchanged borders. The characters occasionally can sound like tour guides: “We have a huge supply of pure underground water and bottle it for sale throughout Europe”; or “Andorrans have the highest longevity in the world according to a recent publication by the World Health Organisation.”

Worth reading? Yes, if you want to learn more about one of Europe’s least well-known countries, and enjoy a well-plotted mystery.


How to debauch your friend’s wife

#Retired Bloke Quote

“A man, indeed, is not genteel when he gets drunk; but most vices may be committed very genteelly; a man may debauch his friend’s wife genteelly; he may cheat at cards genteelly.”

James Boswell 1740-95

Scottish lawyer; biographer of Samuel Johnson

The Life of Samuel Johnson (1775)

Bliss in a bottle

The Wine List: the retirement project to sample the product of every major grape variety listed in Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book. #18

IMGP5847Grape: Chardonnay

Sainsbury’s Taste The Difference Chablis 2013. France.

Alc Vol: 12.5%

HJ says: “Lean but lovely…My default white.”

What it says on the label: “Elegant and dry, characterised by citrus, fresh fruit flavours and a flinty minerality.”

Food combination: “perfect with white fish and goats’ cheese.”

Retired Bloke Verdict: Ok, so it’s another chardonnay, but northern Burgundy still sets the standard for this grape. This bottle was hardly a discovery for me; one of the first wines I was introduced to, as a callow trainee reporter, was Chablis, bought by a colleague who always pronounced it “Cha (as in ‘charity’) – Bliss”. I understand what he was getting at. We drink it with chicken rather than fish; this bottle went perfectly with lemon chicken roasted in a dish with sliced potatoes and onions.

One for the wine rack? Always.

It’s Not About The Wine: Burgundy was once a formidable duchy whose territory stretched as far north as Holland and as far eastwards as Flanders.


This went down a treat

Fancy A Pint? The retirement project to sample a pint of beer or cider brewed or fermented in each county in the United Kingdom. #20

IMGP5845County: Yorkshire

What is it called? Yorkshire Best Bitter.

Who made it? Hambleton Brewery, Melmerby, North Yorkshire. http://www.hambletonales.co.uk

What is it? A bitter, using Northdown and First Goldings hops.

Alc Vol: 4.3%

What it says on the label: “This ale has a malty character with a hint of nuttiness from the crystal and roasted barley.”

Food combination: “Classic pub dishes like ploughman’s or toad in the hole.”

Retired Bloke Verdict: This is from Marks and Spencer’s range of British beers, which explains its geographically precise but somewhat unimaginative name. This was the beer I drank after day two of the hedge in-filling extravaganza at The Aged Parents (see below below), and again it went down a treat. I liked the nuttiness very much.

Fancy another? Yes.

It’s Not About The Beer:┬áThe North Yorkshire spa town of Harrogate is consistently voted as “the happiest place to live” in Britain.

A pint to be proud of

Fancy A Pint? The retirement project to sample a pint of beer or cider brewed or fermented in each county in the United Kingdom. #19

IMGP5844County: Conwy

What is it called? Welsh Pride

Who made it? Conwy Brewery, Llysfaen. http://www.conwybrewery.co.uk

What is it? A copper-coloured bitter

Alc Vol: 4.3%

What it says on the label: “Orange citrus/malt aroma with sweet, nutty, malty finish.”

Food combination: “Light lunches such as Ploughmans and Pork Pies.”

Retired Bloke Verdict: First, let’s clear up any confusion about the county. Conwy is a fairly new creation from the most recent reconfiguration of local government in Wales. Slightly older readers will be more familiar with Gwynedd. Readers of Retired Bloke vintage will fondly remember Caernarfonshire. Now for the beer: it was everything it said on the label. A lovely pint (and not just because I drank it after the first day of the great garden planting adventure – see below).

Fancy another? Yes, definitely.

It’s Not About The Beer: The house named in the Guinness Book of Records as The Smallest House in Britain (3.05m x 1.8m) can be found on Conwy quay. And golfing types may be interested to discover that golf was first played in Wales at Conwy Morfa, a marshy spit of land on the west side of the Conwy estuary.