Murder at the Manor edited by Martin Edwards

Murderers, maniacs and things that go bump in the night…

😀 😀 😀 🙂

murder at the manorAnother in the British Library Crime Classics series, this is the third anthology of short stories edited by Martin Edwards, following Capital Crimes, stories set in London, and Resorting to Murder, stories with a holiday theme. This one, as the title makes obvious, is full of stories set in the traditional country house, so beloved of murderers that one can’t help but wonder why all the owners didn’t sell up and move into a nice little cottage somewhere. Though no doubt the twisted crime writers of the time would have tracked them down even there…

As Edwards says in his introduction, the country house is an ideal setting for the ‘closed circle’ type of mystery, where the suspects are defined by their presence in the house. It’s from this that the old cliché of “the butler did it” arises, though in fact this rarely was the solution. (In one of these stories, though, the butler did indeed do it, but I’m not telling which one…)

Several of the stories come from the Golden Age between the two wars, but there are also earlier and later ones. Many of the authors who appeared in the previous collections turn up again here and, as usual, they range from household names to the pretty much forgotten. One thing I’ve found, as I’ve read more of these short stories and some of the novels the British Library has revived, is that there’s a good reason for why some authors have remained popular while others have faded from the public consciousness. While the anthologies are interesting for seeing how the genre developed over time, there’s no doubt that the quality of the stories is variable, and with a few exceptions the better ones are from the authors whose names are still more familiar.

Although all of the stories contain a crime, some of them are really more horror than detective and, in fact, I tended to enjoy these more. Overall, I found this collection a little less enjoyable than the other two, though whether that’s because the average quality is lower or just that I’ve surfeited on vintage crime for the moment, I’m not sure. However, as always, there are enough good stories to make the collection well worth reading. Here are some of the ones I liked best…

The Copper Beeches by Arthur Conan Doyle – the story of a young woman hired to look after a child, but with mysterious conditions attached. She must cut off her luxurious hair, wear a certain colour of dress and sit in the window for hours at a time. Then one day she finds a hank of hair in a drawer – hair that looks very like her own. And why is the door to one wing of the house always kept locked…?

the copper beeches

The Mystery of Horne’s Copse by Anthony Berkeley – the more I read of Anthony Berkeley, the more I like him. This is a goodie that I used for a Tuesday ‘Tec post.

An Unlocked Window by Ethel White – again more of a horror story, about two nurses looking after a patient in an isolated house while a maniac murderer is on the loose. This one was adapted as part of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents… series. Check your windows before you go to bed…

Look behind you!!
Look behind you!!

The Horror at Staveley Grange by Sapper – a man dies inexplicably in his bedroom, and a few months later his son comes to the same fate in the same room. Now the remaining son is suspected of murder, but can amateur detective Ronald Standish discover the truth? There is proper detection in this but there are also some really quite shivery spooky bits…

The Well by WW Jacobs – a brilliant horror story from the man who gave the world nightmares with The Monkey’s Paw. I used this story for a Tuesday Terror! post.

the well 3

Weekend at Wapentake by Michael Gilbert – the last story in the collection and a good one to end on. When an old woman dies, a lawyer’s clerk becomes suspicious. He suspects he knows who killed her but has to find out why. And puts his own life in danger in the attempt. A nice, thrilling ending to this one to round the book off.

* * * * *

So, murderers, maniacs and things that go bump in the night! Despite the inclusion of a few that I felt were really pretty poor, most are at least good and some are excellent. And, as always, they give a chance to sample some authors who really deserve wider recognition than they have. I’m not sure reading all of these anthologies so close together does them proper justice, but I do recommend them individually, depending on what setting you prefer to satisfy your murderous impulses…

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Poisoned Pen Press.

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53 thoughts on “Murder at the Manor edited by Martin Edwards

  1. I must confess, FictionFan, I am quite biased towards Edwards. He’s really talented. I know what you mean about not all of these stories being gems, but I do love that ‘manor house’ atmosphere! And you’re right that Edwards is good at choosing work from authors who ought to get wider recognition.

    • Yes, he’s done a good job with these collections, and I like the way they’ve been themed. I like country house mysteries too – that small circle of suspects and so on. And I do like when just occasionally the butler actually does do it!

  2. I do so love the covers of these British Library Crime classics. I only have one as I tend to mainly buy secondhand books, but am sorely tempted by the idea of a short story collection of manor house murders!

    • I know – they look great! I must admit I’ve read them all on Kindle, but the idea of a shelf full of them greatly appeals! Each of the short story collections has been good – my favourite was the London collection – do love that London fog!

  3. ‘Murder in a High Rise’ just doesn’t have the same appeal. Pantries, cupboards under the stairs, attics, cellars, greenhouses and pergolas, not to mention follies, secret staircases, false panelling hiding hidden rooms, that’s what you want rather than small regular rectangles and squares stacked on top of each other. There is always the malfunctioning lift and the concrete walkways I suppose………….

    • Hmm, yes… they don’t have the same romantic appeal somehow! Which is a good thing really – where possible, I think it should always be rich capitalist pigs or useless aristos that get murdered. Cuts down on the grief factor… *sings the Red Flag*

  4. This one sounds most interesting! But then, I, too, have a penchant for murder stories in country houses. Doyle’s story sounds particularly fascinating — finding a hank of hair in a dresser?? Hmm, most suspicious, I’d say!

    • That’s a particularly good Holmes story – has everything from mystery to creepy to full-blown horror in it! It’s a good collection overall – I like the country house setting too. And I’d quite like to have a butler – though preferably not a homicidal one!

  5. I can’t say I’m intrigued at the moment by a collection of short stories from different authors. I recently read a book of short stories but they were all Inspector Morse so I know what I’m getting. I really think I prefer a novel that keeps me on the edge of my seat from the beginning of the book ’til the end. Could just be a present preference and maybe at some future time this will interest me more. I do love mysteries. Here’s my current read — intro and teaser. Maybe you’ll like it. It’s from Flowers for Algernon: http://wp.me/p4DMf0-1dz

    • On the whole I prefer novels too, but I seem to have been reading loads of anthologies recently and I think I’m learning to appreciate them more. These have been good for highlighting a couple of authors I didn’t previously know and would like to read more of. Thanks for the link! 🙂

  6. The quality of the stories is bound to be variable, but it’s the kind of collection I like to see, simply because it gives an idea of the period and the type of things people enjoyed back then. And there is always the chance you discover a lesser-known gem…

    • Yes, I’ve found them all interesting for seeing trends and how the genre has developed, and for meeting a couple of authors I didn’t previously know but would like to read more of. Even though some of the stories are less good, there have always been plenty of good and great ones to compensate…

    • Yep, they’re too tempting really! I still have a couple of the full novels to read, but I’m trying to resist getting any more till I catch up with things a bit!

  7. As you know, vintage crime is very much up my street and these look at tempting as ever. It’s cheesy, but the whole ‘the butler did it’ thing I find so very appealing. My literary tastes are very unsophisticated 😉

    • I think butlers are simply the victims of class war! Up the butlers, I say! Why shouldn’t they bump off their greedy capitalist employers?? They deserve it – why can’t they polish their own silver? Eh?? EH?!!

      Oh, I do beg your pardon – must stop watching the American election campaign. Trump’s hairdo does terrible things to my anger management…

      • Oooh I am quite enraptured by the election campaign. I mean, I thought we had it bad!! But back to butlers. I feel an idea coming on… a series where the butler always does it. Or one very murderous butler travelling between stately homes, knocking off toffs…

        • Haha! I know – the whole thing has made me much fonder of our own lot!

          How about an underground society of butlers, swapping murders like Strangers on a Train and giving each other alibis? See – the butlers of yesteryear just needed our organisational skills and they wouldn’t always have been getting caught…

    • That was a great one. Ethel Lina White is one of the authors I’d really like to read more of – she seems to do that crossover between crime and scary quite a lot. Anything that works for Hitchcock, is just fine by me…!

  8. I keep looking at my copy of Capital Crimes because I really must read it this year – This one sounds like it has a good selection too… I’m looking forward to reading some of those authors that I haven’t come across although I’m sure you’re right that there may be a reason why they’ve been forgotten.

    • I liked Capital Crimes best out of the three – but then I think London is a great place for crime fiction, especially old London with the fogs. But all three collections have had good stuff in them.

  9. I know most of these stories. I’m a particular fan of the great Michael Gilbert, who wrote most of his books in longhand on the train while commuting into London(he was a solicitor), which somehow gives them even more of a “period” feel.
    I hope your review encourages some people to discover him.

    • The British Library is certainly doing its best to reintroduce some of these “forgotten” writers. A lot of them are so dated now though that it’s quite hard to overlook attitudes etc…

  10. Hitchcock has always given me the shivers, so much so that I find it difficult to watch any of his films without hiding behind the couch. I much prefer to scare myself by reading. That way I can control the speed at which the story comes at me. Perhaps I need to read The Copper Beeches….

    • It’s always seemed strange to me that people hide behind the couch – I mean, wouldn’t you think that’d be the place the monster would be most likely to hide too?? Under a blanket is much safer…

      Oh, you need to read all the Sherlock Holmes stories – it’s the law! And if it isn’t, it should be!

  11. Murder plus horror is a good combination in my opinion. I’m also a sucker for atmospheric settings. 😉

    • Me too! Out of the three settings for these collections I liked the London ones best, but they’ve all been interesting, and this one had several good horror-style stories… 🙂

  12. What an epic little collection. I wonder who’s standing behind her. Is it the maid? Her sister? Or, worse thingy of all…her grandmother!

    Anyways, the Doyle one sounds good. I almost wish I could find a wig in a drawer, you know.

    • Oh no, it’s even worse! It’s… *shudders*… no, I just can’t tell you…

      *faints* Doyle sounds good? Are you feeling ill? Here, have some medicinal chocolate quick!

      • Ooo, I know, I know! (I’ve decided I’m a Minion, you know.) Was it the grandfather? *nods*

        Haha. Well, you made him sound good! I bet it really isn’t. Oh yes, all the joints are oiled and moving properly. And I got new brakes and exhaust system and air filter.

        • (A Minion? Aren’t they yellow?) Worse!! You’ll never guess… *shivers*

          Oh it is! That’s good – there are few things worse than having a dodgy exhaust…

    • Yes, it’s one of the penalties of taking things for review that I feel obliged to read them as near the publication date as possible… and if they’re all published at the same time, it can all be too much of a good thing!

  13. I used to love weird, mysterious horror stories. I read a great collection in elementary school that I got at the library. I don’t remember the name, but I can still picture the cover. And i checked it out many times, too! Curses!

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