Murder in the Bookshop by Carolyn Wells

A messy romp…

🙂 🙂 🙂

When two men enter a locked bookshop through a window and one ends up dead, suspicion not unnaturally falls on the survivor. Philip Balfour was a fanatical book collector and his companion on his mysterious trip to the bookshop was the man he employed as his librarian, Keith Ramsay. The fact that Keith is also in love with Balfour’s wife, Alli, provides a nice motive. But Keith claims that a masked intruder came into the store, chloroformed Keith and by the time he came round Balfour was dead and the intruder had gone. The police are dubious but the owner of the bookstore (who seems remarkably unfazed by the idea of one of his best customers breaking into his shop) is sure that Keith could never have done such a thing, so he advises Alli to bring his friend, the private detective Fleming Stone, into the case.

There are all kinds of mysteries here apart from the murder. What were the two men doing in the shop? A valuable book is missing – coincidence? What was the bookseller’s assistant up to at the time that he’s not prepared to reveal to the police? Who is sending mysterious anonymous letters? Why are the police willing to let Fleming Stone keep hold of vital evidence? Why does Fleming Stone say on one page that there’s a large pool of suspects and then a few pages later that there are very few suspects?

I must admit I thought this was all a bit of a mess. The author contradicts herself from page to page as if she just dashed the words down and never went back to read it over. For example, at one point Stone decides not to tell Alli about accusations that have been made against her in an anonymous letter, then promptly ten minutes later hands her the letter and asks her what she thinks! That’s just one instance – I could have picked many, many more. It all adds to the confusion, but not quite in the way the author intended, I assume. I believe she was hugely prolific, often churning out three or even four books a year, so I guess that didn’t leave much time for editing.

However, apparently she was also very popular in her day and I can understand that too to an extent since, despite the messiness, there is still some fun in this because of the element of humour the author introduces from time to time. Her characterisation is far from being deep, but it’s often quite slyly wicked, giving a neat summation of a person in a few words. The first lines of the book will give an idea of what I mean…

Mr Philip Balfour was a good man. Also, he was good-looking, good-humoured and good to his wife. That is, when he had his own way, which was practically always.

Carolyn Wells

The investigation gets bogged down in repetition for a bit in the middle and drags, but both the beginning, when the murder takes place, and the end, when all is revealed, are better, and in retrospect, yes, I think there were enough clues there for the reader to have had a fair chance of spotting whodunit and why. I didn’t – I was too preoccupied spotting all the contradictions!

Overall, not one to be taken too seriously, but an enjoyable enough romp for those times when something a bit lighter suits your mood. And I assume that’s the secret of her appeal. However, I don’t think I’d be seeking out more of her work based on this example.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Collins Crime Club.

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31 thoughts on “Murder in the Bookshop by Carolyn Wells

  1. Hmm…I do like the idea of multiple mysterious questions in the same novel if it’s done well, Fiction Fan. But if it isn’t, then, yes, I could see how this would end up feeling like a mishmash. It’s a pity, too, because there’s the promise of a fine story underneath it all. And what’s not to like about a bookshop setting? I think I might wait on this one, truth be told. But the premise sounds interesting.

    • I still love the premise, but sadly all the inconsistencies stopped me from ever feeing properly involved. It was a pity because the good bits were good – a bit more time to polish up the rough edges and it would have been a much better book…

  2. I’m right there with you, FF. If I find myself side-tracked by looking for (and finding!) errors, I can’t enjoy the story. This one sounds like a hot mess! She came up with a nice premise, but executing it just didn’t work. Thanks for another outstanding review — now it’s time for hot cocoa!

    • Yes, I still love the premise, but if I keep spotting errors I can’t ever believe the story is real, and this one has so many inconsistencies! Hmm… I feel bad for saying this, but it’s sorta feeling quite spring-like here the last couple of days. The sun even shone for a while this afternoon… 😀

  3. When was this book written? I guess she didn’t write the details down. Reminds me of some of L. Frank Baum’s Oz books, the facts of which contradict themselves from book to book.

    • Some time in the 1920s, I think, and I suspect it would have been at the downmarket end of books even back then. I couldn’t decide at first if she was trying to bamboozle me, but I came to the conclusion she’d actually bamboozled herself!

    • Ha – I always assume people are secretly relieved when they only see three smileys! I’m awash with GA again, so bound to be pushing some of them at you soon… 😀

  4. Hmm I wonder if I would spot the contradictions myself-I suspect not because I don’t fancy myself a very close reader, so I suppose it depends how obvious these mistakes were? At least it was fun…

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