Tuesday ‘Tec! Bodies from the Library 3 edited by Tony Medawar

Mixed bag…

🙂 🙂 🙂

As with the previous books in the series, this is a collection of stories that have rarely or never been included in a collection before. There are twelve stories, plus a fun collection of very short shorts where several writers were challenged to come up with a story all using the same object – an orange. There’s the usual mix of well known authors like Dorothy L Sayers, Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh, alongside some that have recently come back to prominence during the current revival, like Christopher St John Sprigg and Josephine Bell, and a few from authors entirely unfamiliar to me.

The problem with these “never before collected” collections is that there is bound to be a finite number of great stories that fall into that category. I read and loved the second book in the series, and was surprised at the high quality of the stories in it. I’m afraid this one feels rather like the leftovers – the ones that weren’t good enough to be included in the earlier books. Only one achieved a five-star rating from me – The Hampstead Murder by Christopher Bush, which I highlighted in a previous Tuesday ‘Tec! post. A handful got four stars, but I found the rest disappointing and not really worth the bother of collecting. I feel the series has probably run its course, in this format at least.

Here’s a flavour of a few of the better stories:

The Incident of the Dog’s Ball by Agatha Christie – although this story was only discovered many years after Christie’s death, it has certainly been collected before since I had already read it! A woman writes to Poirot for advice, but the letter doesn’t arrive till some months later. Poirot discovers the woman died just after she had written the letter, a death put down to accident. But the letter makes Poirot think that there may have been a darker cause, so he sets out to investigate. This story forms the nucleus of the plot of what would become the novel, Dumb Witness.

The Case of the Unlucky Airman by Christopher St John Sprigg – it’s sad that Sprigg died so young, since the little I’ve read of his stuff suggests he had a lot of talent. This one involves an airman who lands to get an oil leak fixed. He taxies into an empty hangar, there is the sound of a shot and he is found dead. An intriguing take on a “locked room” mystery – well told and quite fun.

The Riddle of the Black Spade by Stuart Palmer – a man is killed on a golf course, apparently by a ball with a black spade trademark. At first, his son is suspected, until it turns out the ball was one of the victim’s own. The police captain investigating the death is “assisted” by a spinster lady, Hildegard Withers, who apparently was the star of a series of novels and stories, and popular in her day. This story is light-hearted and entertaining, with some surprises and a clearly explained howdunit solution.

Grand Guignol by John Dickson Carr – written while he was at University, this story formed the basis of his early novel It Walks By Night. I felt a bit smug about that, since in my review of It Walks By Night, I mentioned that the book made me think of the traditions of Grand Guignol! The basic plot and solution are the same but it’s done differently, and the dénouement here is all a bit silly and unbelievable. But it’s an interesting look at the beginnings of the style he would later develop into the decadent horror feel of the Bencolin novels.

So a few enjoyable stories, though often as much for seeing how these famous authors started out than as polished articles in their own right. I’m sure real vintage crime fans will find enough of interest to make reading the collection worthwhile, as I did, but for newcomers or more casual fans I’d recommend the earlier book, Bodies from the Library 2, as a more entertaining collection overall. I haven’t mentioned the first book in the series because I haven’t yet read it.

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

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28 thoughts on “Tuesday ‘Tec! Bodies from the Library 3 edited by Tony Medawar

  1. It is always interesting to spot the prototype of a full length novel within a writer’s short story work, I’ve noticed it with Christie quite a few times. I don’t remember the Dumb Witness, maybe I skipped it before, I’ll need to take a look. It does sound as though this format for the Bodies in the Library series has indeed run its course now, hopefully the BL will come up with a fresh idea.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, she seemed almost to use short stories to try out plot points that she would later expand into novels, though whether she deliberately set out to do that I don’t know. Dumb Witness isn’t one of her top rank books, but I remember enjoying it, especially the character of Bob the dog! I really must re-read it – it’s been years. Yes, I don’t think there’s as many good short stories in crime fiction as in either horror or sci-fi, so the anthologies tend to have too many fillers in them.

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  2. Sorry to hear that this one didn’t live up to the others, FictionFan. I see your point, though, that it would be hard to keep up the pace, if that makes sense. Interesting that The Incident of the Dog’s Ball is there; I do like that story very much. It reminds me that Christie did that sort of thing with several of her stories (I’m thinking, for instance, of The Yellow Iris, which ended up as the novel Sparkling Cyanide. I do like to watch the genesis of stories…

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    • Yes, I think the success of the first two books must have made the idea of doing a third irresistible, but the quality just wasn’t the same – for me, at least. Christie did seem to do that quite often – turn a short story into a novel. I always loved the character of Bob the dog in Dumb Witness – he and Hastings developed such a lovely friendship… 😉

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  3. Well, you might not have enjoyed all the stories, but your review feels very fair to me. I’m sorry some of these were a disappointment. It’s like that with collections, isn’t it? Some are good; others only so-so. We all have to start somewhere, right?

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    • Yes, anthologies are always chancy – there are nearly always some stories that don’t quite work as well as the others. Book 2 felt as if it would be entertaining for anyone, but this one felt to me that only real vintage crime fans would be interested in a lot of the entries.

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  4. Yes, I think there must be a reason they’ve never been collected before! (and perhaps shouldn’t have been now)

    I think it’s the first in the series that I have on my wishlist. No others will be added any time soon.

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    • Ha, yes! Although that was what surprised me about Book 2 – the stories were so enjoyable I couldn’t understand why they hadn’t been collected before. Not so much with this one, though… 😉 I’m still keen to read Book 1 – I assume they were probably the pick of the bunch…

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    • Hahaha, I didn’t know that there was an issue with calling her Agatha! I’m glad now that I always tend to refer to her as Ms Christie, although I do wonder what she’d have thought of ‘Ms’ – she didn’t seem to think much of modern life in her later books… 😉

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