The Measure of Malice edited by Martin Edwards

The clue’s in the clue…

😀 😀 😀 😀

Another collection of vintage crime from the winning partnership of Martin Edwards and the British Library, this one contains fourteen stories sharing the theme of scientific detectives or clues. There’s a lot of imagination on display as the authors seek to find unique problems to put before their detectives – everything from Sherlock Holmes and his expert knowledge of cigar ash, to laryngoscopes, anaphylactic shock, new-fangled “contact glasses” and a different twist on identifying corpses from dental records. There’s a mix of well-known authors, authors who are becoming better known again thanks to the work of Edwards and the BL, and a couple I’ve not come across before.

And as always, there’s a considerable variation in quality. In total, I gave just 3 of the stories 5 stars, but another 5 rated as 4 stars. There were a couple I really felt weren’t up to a standard to make them worthy of inclusion, and all the others came in around the 3 star mark. The early collections in the BL Crime Classics series tended to have the settings as the theme – London, country houses, people on holiday, etc – while the more recent ones have focused on the type of mystery. It’s purely subjective, but I preferred the earlier themes – the settings allowed for a mix of motives and methods, whereas the later ones being centred on particular sub-genres of the sub-genre make the variety narrower, and often have the focus on alibis or clues rather than on the interactions of the characters. So it all depends on reader preference, as usual, and I suspect people who like this kind of story would rate some of the stories higher than I have.

Here’s a taste of a few that I enjoyed most:

The Boscombe Valley Mystery by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – it seems to be becoming a tradition that these anthologies kick off with a Holmes story and this is a good one. A man is murdered and his son is suspected, but Holmes quickly discovers there may have been a third person on the scene. It all hinges on footprints, cigar ash, and the dying victim’s last words… “a rat”!

The Horror of Studley Grange by LT Meade and Clifford Halifax – Lady Studley asks Dr Halifax to come to the Grange because she’s worried about her husband’s health. But Dr Halifax is equally worried about Lady Studley who seems to be very ill. This turns into a decent horror story, complete with ghostly apparitions, but in a scientific mystery it won’t surprise you to know the horror is of human origin. The whodunit is a bit obvious, but the detection of the how and why aspects is fun and it’s very well told.

In the Teeth of the Evidence by Dorothy L Sayers – I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that I vastly prefer Sayers in short story mode than in her novels, probably because she gets to the point more quickly and so there’s less time for Lord Peter Wimsey to become annoying. This one is a fun story that begins when Lord Peter is visiting his dentist, who has been asked to identify a burned corpse from his dental records. Of course, Lord Peter tags along which is just as well, since he spots something the experts have missed! It’s played for laughs with a lot of humour around the horrors of dentistry and in the description of the victim’s awful wife. Very enjoyable and of course well written.

Blood Sport by Edmund Crispin – this is very short but good fun nevertheless. A woman is shot and the local lord is suspected, since apparently he was getting up to hanky-panky with the victim, who was no better than she should be. But the detective spots a discrepancy around the cleaning of a gun which sends him off in a different direction. Reminded me that I really must read more Crispin.

As always it includes an informative general introduction from Martin Edwards, plus mini-biographies of each of the authors. So if scientific clues and detectives are your thing, then there’s plenty in this to enjoy.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, the British Library.

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36 thoughts on “The Measure of Malice edited by Martin Edwards

  1. I think you’ve highlighted for me the reason why I don’t get on very well with short story anthologies, the quality of the individual stories is too inconsistent. Like you, I also prefer crime fiction with a strong setting over the more scientific stuff, so I don’t think this particular collection is for me anyway, but I’m glad you still found some stories to enjoy.


    • Yes, there always seem to be one or two stories that feel like filler, but I’m gradually getting better at speeding through them and then taking more time over the ones I enjoy. I loved the London set collection, Capital Crimes – London is such a great place for crime and so many authors have used it as a setting over the decades.


  2. Hahaha. No time for Wimsey to become annoying.

    I feel for reading her short stories.

    Incidentally, Gaudy Night features Harriet Vane and Lord Wimsey has short time, so I didn’t find him annoying at all. It’s the best of her long ones I have read.


  3. That variability is so interesting, isn’t it, FIctionFan? I’m very glad you found a few stellar and several very good entries, even if not all of them drew you in. Of course, as you say, the partnership of Edwards and the BL is a great one, and I would have been sadly surprised to hear there were none you enjoyed. Interesting what you say, too, about setting and context. I’ll have to sift through that and see if it’s my experience, too. It’s fascinating, and I can see how that’s your preference. Hmmm…


    • Yes, and so much of it is subjective. I often look at other reviews on Goodreads and frequently find other people highlighting as favourites some of the stories I liked least and vice versa. The collections based on settings allowed for a variety of things like impossible crimes or scientific crimes, etc., amidst the more standard whodunit, and the odd one or two is quite fun. But I find a whole collection of one type of mystery too much, even when there’s a lot of imagination on display. But I know plenty of other people love these sub-genres, so for them it will be good to have several collected together…

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve only read one of his own Lake District stories and quite enjoyed it – keep meaning to read more! But I know him much better through his work editing vintage crime for the British Library and for his books on the history of vintage crime.


    • Yes, it’s very rare to find a collection where all the stories are great, especially one with various authors. But with these vintage crime ones I usually find I enjoy enough of them to feel my time has been well spent!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This one sounds good, despite the inconsistency in quality of stories. It’s probably worth a read just for the ones you’ve pointed out. I’m not sure I’d want to gather together a collection of anything (short stories or poems). There’s no way ALL can be excellent in the eyes of every reader!


    • Yes, I usually find there are enough stories I enjoy in these collections to feel my time has been well spent. Before I began reviewing and reading other people’s reviews, I kind of assumed without giving it much thought that books and stories were either “good” or “bad” – it’s only seeing how differently we all react to things that has made me realise how subjective it all really is. It might be fun (or torture!) to try to put together a collection where everyone would enjoy every entry… 😀

      Liked by 1 person

    • Crime shorts are quite hard because the shortness doesn’t allow for much in the way of plot development – I guess that’s why so many turn on a specific clue or a locked room or whatever. The covers of these are brilliant – I hope whoever selects them gets an award! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s really interesting what you say about the earlier collections working better. I’ve only read some of the earlier ones and none of the later ones, so I will moderate my expectations! There still seems to be a lot to enjoy here though – I do like Crispin.


    • It is personal preference though – I’ve just never been a huge fan of physical clue-based crime or locked room mysteries, preferring character and motivation. But several other reviewers on Goodreads are saying this is one of the best of the collections. So you pays your money and you takes your choice! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I quite often think after reading these BL reprints that they must have been able to find something more worthy of reprinting. So far I would say they’re about 65% worthy.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think the novels have become more consistently good as they’ve gone along – I get the impression they pay attention to reader reaction. There’s still the occasional one that leaves me wondering why they picked it, though. The short stories have always been more variable – I’m not sure Martin Edwards and I are always on the same wavelength… )


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