RADIO / Judging a bookshop by its cover: Robert Hanks reviews Drif's guide to the Northern Line and P D James's Cover Her Face

BECAUSE reading books is, or can be, an intellectual pastime, it's easy to think that collecting books must be, too. In fact, your genuine bibliophile is impelled mostly by a batch of primeval instincts. At bottom, there's ordinary acquisitiveness, a primeval hoarding instinct that some squirrel-like ancestor left imprinted on our genes. This is, in turn, channelled through a primitive materialism that believes minds work through objects. Just as a Dyak might believe that a photograph can contain his soul, or an American Indian might eat a bear's heart so that he can have the bear's courage, so book-collectors feel, at some superstitious level, that by simply owning a book - reading it is irrelevant - they can possess the knowledge it contains.

They're wrong, of course. Certainly, it's hard to see the civilising influence of a lifetime in the manners of Drif Field, author of a series of eccentric, shoddily laid out guides to second-hand bookshops around the country, and now presenter of Drif's Guide to the Northern Line (Radio 4, Tuesday), a special edition of Down Your Way with the unspoken subtitle Up Your Nose.

Drif conducted us from Wimbledon to Edgware, a route that he believes is the present-day, extended version of Charing Cross Road, handing out small theories about the book trade (the best bargains are in the window) and generally annoying bookshop owners. He prizes courtesy above all, in other people at any rate: for himself, he can't do it straight, only in French - a cheery 'Au revoir' here, a 'Merci beaucoup' there. At one socialist-leaning bookshop, run by a former leader of Haringey Council, he pondered the apparent prevalence of the Left in the second-hand trade: in the course of the discussion it was established that while Drif himself may be socially gauche, politically he stands to the right of, well, Genghis Khan is his own current version, though in early editions of his guide he apparently used Adolf Hitler as the yardstick.

The main problem with Drif was that he liked the sound of his own voice too much. Bores can make for good entertainment, but you have to be able to laugh at them. Collusive comedy about bores - cf Les and Robert (Radio 4, Saturday), a mock- thriller serial about two intolerably dull men from Lancing - is swimming in mud.

Still, if Drif wasn't a congenial guide, the trip wasn't entirely wasted. He didn't pursue issues with much tenacity, but he did start up a few. The most intriguing episode was a conversation with an 80-year-old lady who specialised in selling books on 'True Crime'. Drif wondered if she ever worried about the kind of people who read her books, but she said that apart from the 'weirdies', who call up looking for illustrated accounts of autopsies and the like, she thought that the desire to read about crime - a nice domestic murder, nothing too kinky - was so natural and so widespread that she had never bothered to think about it. 'I believe that the world would be dreary if there were no crime. I can't imagine a world without crime. Can you? Can you imagine heaven?' Drif giggled that he didn't think heaven would be crime-free.

Crime-infested heaven is the staple of the detective story, at least in England. Typically, an English murder will take place among the upper-middle classes in a peaceful rural setting - the crime's horror resting, for the reader, in the incongruity as much as the fact of death. The beauty of Cover Her Face (Radio 4, Wednesday), P D James's first crime novel, now 30 years old and dramatised in four parts - is that it knows how unrealistic this pastoral scene is.

In this story, James seemed to spoof the typical Agatha Christie setting and cast. The house where the murder takes place, Martingale, is an Elizabethan manorhouse in an East Anglian village: almost the first thing we hear is that 'even in the Fifties it was an anachronism'. There's the local vicar, and the doctor, and the faithful retainer (an elderly woman sexually attached to her paralysed master). There's also Miss Liddell who, like Miss Marple, trains girls for domestic service - but Miss Liddell's girls are unmarried mothers (the victim, Sally Jupp, is one of these women), and she herself is sexually repressed and mildly hysterical.

Neville Teller's adaptation abridges the whole thing drastically, so that we're left with the bare bones of cliches at times ('You deserve to be dead,' old Martha mutters at Sally), but you can still sense a clever, slightly rebellious reworking of the old formulas. It's just like the Sixties all over again.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Homeless in Wales can find inspiration from Daniel’s story
    Front National family feud? Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks

    Front National family feud?

    Marine Le Pen and her relatives clash over French far-right party's response to Paris terror attacks
    Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

    Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

    Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
    DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

    The inside track on France's trial of the year

    Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
    As provocative now as they ever were

    Sarah Kane season

    Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

    Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

    Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
    Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

    Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

    One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
    The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

    The enemy within

    People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

    Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
    Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

    Autumn/winter menswear 2015

    The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

    Army general planning to come out
    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century