Settling Scores edited by Martin Edwards

Simply not cricket!

😀 😀 😀 😀

Another themed collection of mysteries from the Golden Age, this contains 15 stories, as usual with a mix of well-known and lesser known authors. As the title and cover imply, the theme in this instance is sport, and a different sport features in every story. There are the sports that are well known for skulduggery – horse racing and boxing, for example – and the sports which are usually, or were at that time, held to be the squeaky clean preserve of the English gentleman – rowing, rugby and, of course, cricket. In some of the stories the sport matters in terms of the plot, while in others it merely forms an interesting background to a more traditional mystery.

As always, I found the quality variable, although in this one most of the stories fell into the middling range for me, between average and good, with just a couple standing out as excellent and only one which I thought was so bad it didn’t really merit inclusion. There were only one or two where I felt my lack of understanding of the sport in question got in the way of my enjoyment of the story, and since I’m not very sports-minded this would probably be even less of a problem for most people.

Here’s a flavour of a few of the stories I enjoyed most:

The Boat Race Murder by David Winser – Set in the run up to the all-important annual race between Oxford and Cambridge Universities, this is a story of competitiveness and ambition taken to extremes. It’s very well written, told by a first-person narrator who was in the Oxford team. It does assume a bit more understanding of the technicalities of rowing than I possess, but it gives a great and very authentic feeling background to what it’s like to be an “Oxford Blue”, the hard work and teamsmanship, and all the pressures and celebrity that come with being at the top of an elite sport.

The 1930 Oxford Crew

Death at the Wicket by Bernard Newman – During a match, a cricketer is struck by the ball and later collapses and dies. It appears to have been an accident, but was it? Our narrator is not convinced and sets out to investigate. The cricketing story here assumes the reader understands the dangers and ethical questions around “bodyline” bowling – a technique that came in the 1930s whereby the bowler deliberately aims the ball with the intention of intimidating the batsman, leading to many injuries. It was (is?) considered deeply unsporting. However, the story is well written and ultimately depends on human nature rather than cricketing shenanigans, so is enjoyable even for people who don’t know their googly from their silly mid-off.

The Drop Shot by Michael Gilbert – as two men watch a squash match, one tells the other of another match years earlier that resulted in the death of one of the players. This is very well told and doesn’t require any knowledge of squash to understand the plot. It’s not a mystery – more of a morality tale about greed and competitiveness, and how fate makes sure one gets one’s comeuppance in the end. I enjoyed it a lot.

Dangerous Sport by Celia Fremlin – the sport here is really incidental to the story, being merely that a school sports day provides the backdrop to one of the major events. It’s the story of a mistress who is tired of her lover lying to her, especially since he’s not very good at it. She likes to catch him out in his lies, but has gradually come to realise that his wife and family will always be more important to him than she is. So she decides to do something about it. This suspense story has an almost noir feel to it, in that no one is likeable and there’s no hope for a happy ending. It’s extremely well told and psychologically convincing, especially of the thoughts and feelings of the mistress. I shall look out for more from this new-to-me author.

And it also has a Holmes story, which seems to be a regular feature of these collections, certainly for the last several anyway. This time it’s The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter (rugby) – not a particularly strong mystery but, as always, a very well told and interesting story.

So plenty of variety and lots to enjoy, and a great way of participating in some strenuous sports without leaving the sofa. Recommended.

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

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39 thoughts on “Settling Scores edited by Martin Edwards

  1. Sounds as though there were a couple of gems in there, FIctionFan. And it’s good to hear there was only one that was a real disappointment. I’m not much of a one for sports, myself, but it can work very well in a story, and trust Martin Edwards to curate a decent collection of stories where it does. Wonder what would happen if Rafa starred in a story… 😉

    Liked by 2 people

    • There must be loads of scope for mysteries in Mallorca – all those yachts for someone to mysteriously disappear over the side of 🙂 . Or, for something a bit more tennis-related and bit less violent 🙂 , stuff mysteriously goes missing from the locker room, or someone puts players off by coughing and sneezing at crucial moments … or someone does something nefarious to the water bottles? *Sigh* – it should be the Barcelona Open this week!

      Liked by 2 people

    • Haha! Well, Rafa would have to be the detective because I couldn’t possibly allow him to be the victim! Or maybe he could be the suspect and I could be the detective and save him. Maybe his wife could be the victim…

      PS I think his wife is lovely, btw, and wouldn’t really want her to be poisoned… 😉

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Since we can’t watch sports on TV right now (unless you like OLD repeats of games long past), this might fit the bill. Reading and mystery and sports — sounds like a good combination to me. Sorry you didn’t find more appealing tales here, but I’m glad you enjoyed it mostly!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve never been able to watch old sports – somehow knowing I can just google the result takes away all the suspense! So this was a good alternative – though it’s not the same as watching Wimbledon… 😦 I think I need to post some Rafa pics soon… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Glad you enjoyed this over all, and found a couple which stood out, but I guess that’s the risk of these anthologies that they all tend to be somewhat uneven.

    Liked by 1 person

    • They do vary in quality a lot and sometimes I think the themes mean that a couple get stuck in just to make up the numbers. But there are always plenty of enjoyable ones too, and they’re great for introducing “new” authors…

      Like

    • Haha – I wonder how many of us sit for hours watching all the exercise-in-your-own-home videos celebrities are issuing! There’s nothing quite as satisfying as watching other people work out while relaxing with coffee and cake… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    • I always find with these anthologies that there are enough good stories to make them worthwhile, even though there are also always a few less good ones too. Hahaha – it’s a kind of bowling technique in cricket, but it’s frankly beyond my understanding! Google defines it as “an off break bowled with an apparent leg-break action.” Hmm, don’t know about you, but I’m none the wiser… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  4. This is one of those books that I think would enjoy and learn something from, even though I’m completely sports aversive, if I happened to pick it up, but in reality it just won’t ever make it to the top of my list unfortunately.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Apart from watching tennis I don’t do sports either really, as participant or viewer, But my dad and brother used to force me to watch sports as a child, back in the days of one TV per household, so I have odd bits of knowledge about the rules and terminology of various sports I’ve never been remotely interested in!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I remember the interminable Saturday radio rugby commentaries that used to run in the background as my father worked in the garden or garage. I’m glad he could listen, but I think that definitely fed into my aversion!

        Liked by 1 person

        • I could just about cope with the football and actively enjoyed the boxing, but the motor-racing used to drive me insane – whizzing round and round the same track a million times with the only excitement being when they had to change a tire…

          Liked by 1 person

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