Guilty Creatures edited by Martin Edwards

“…and only man is vile”

😀 😀 😀 🙂

Another anthology of vintage mystery stories from the British Library and Martin Edwards, this time themed around animals, birds and insects but happily they are all in the nature of clues rather than victims! There are fourteen stories in total, as usual including some very well known authors, such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, GK Chesterton and Edgar Wallace, some that were new to me, such as Garnett Radcliffe and Clifford Witting, and some that have become stalwarts of this series, such as HC Bailey and F Tennyson Jesse.

This was an even more mixed bag than usual for me. Although there were several excellent stories, there were an equal number that I felt were quite poor. Overall my individual ratings for each story averaged out to just over 3½ for the fourteen, so that’s the rating I’m giving the book (rounded up). However, the better stories are very enjoyable, so if you don’t mind varying quality there’s still plenty in here to make reading it time well spent.

Here are a few of the ones I enjoyed most:

The Adventure of the Lion’s Mane by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – This is an unusual one in that it’s told by Holmes himself, and Watson isn’t in it. Holmes has retired to the Sussex coast and is present when a teacher from the local school staggers up the beach, mutters something that sounds like “the lion’s mane” and promptly dies. His back is covered in weals as if from a scourge. Suspicion falls on another teacher, but Holmes has his own theory. I can’t tell you what creature is involved in this one since it would be a major spoiler!

Pit of Screams by Garnett Radcliffe – a colonial tale. A Rajah keeps a pit of vipers where he sentences criminals to die. There is a pole in the pit where the condemned person can hang above the vipers until their strength gives way and they fall to their doom. It’s a spectator sport! Our narrator tells of one man, unfairly sentenced, and builds some great tension as the man hangs over the pit. The story is complete tosh and has some unfortunate outdated racial stuff, but it’s well written and very entertaining and has a delicious sting in the tail which genuinely took me by surprise.

The Yellow Slugs by HC Bailey – a Reggie Fortune story. He is called in by Superintendent Bell to a troubling case. A small boy was seen trying to drown his little sister. Both survived and are in hospital. There seems little doubt that the boy meant to kill her, but Reggie wants to know why. He believes that there must have been a very strong reason for a child of that age to act that way, especially since the boy seems to love his sister. This is a chilling and disturbing story. I’ve read a couple of Fortune stories where children have been involved and they seem to bring out his strong sense of justice and an underlying anger, presumably the author’s, at some of the social concerns of the day. The title tells you which creature is involved, but you’ll need to read it if you want to know how!

The Man Who Shot Birds by Mary Fitt – A student is in lodgings when he is visited by a friendly but thieving jackdaw, who makes off with anything shiny he can find. But there’s a man going around the neighbourhood shooting birds, and he seems to be unable to tell the difference between jackdaws and crows (which everyone seems to think it’s OK to shoot).The student is scared for the jackdaw’s safety so decides to try to save it. This is very well done and all the stuff about the jackdaw’s behaviour is lovely. The mystery is weaker, but the entertainment of the story is all in the telling. No major plot spoilers, but for the worried I can confirm the jackdaw isn’t harmed.

So some excellent and varied stories and, as always, despite the varying quality in these anthologies, they are a great way of being introduced to new authors to look out for.

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

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

38 thoughts on “Guilty Creatures edited by Martin Edwards

  1. That’s the thing about short story collections, isn’t it, FictionFan? They really can be a mixed bag. Still, I’m glad you found several that were to your liking. Edwards does have a way of finding some lesser-known authors to include in a collection, doesn’t he? Makes for some interesting new authors to explore!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, and often it’s to do with reader preference too – some of the stories I thought were poor might be other people’s favourites. I do like the mix of authors – some have become regulars in these collections now, but every time there are one or two new ones. Two of the ones I highlighted this time were from authors I hadn’t heard of, so clearly there are still plenty of good ones for the BL to resurrect!

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’m even worse than you because I cheerfully read about (fictional) violence to humans but will abandon a book where there’s any kind of bad thing happening to an animal. Worrying, really! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I felt kinda sorry for the crows when everyone seemed to think it was OK to shoot them, but got very upset over the idea of shooting a jackdaw! I thought we were past that kind of birdism these days… 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I typically have to avoid stories about animals because too often, it’s the animal that dies. This sounds like an interesting collection, but that hanging-over-the-viper-pit tale is one I’m sure I couldn’t read. I’d have to sleep with the lights all on … if I were able to sleep at all!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I was worried about the theme of this collection in case bad things happened to the animals, but happily not. In fact, some of the animal descriptions added a nice touch, like the jackdaw. Even the vipers lived! Which is more than can be said for… nope! Spoiler! 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    • The cover is great, isn’t it? I think the Holmes story was one of the very late ones and in general I prefer the ones Watson narrates, but this one does fit in very well with the theme of the book…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Those stories do sound fun though it’s too bad the collection as a whole is hit and miss. As for the Sherlock Holmes story, the obvious answer seems to be a lion’s mane jellyfish!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Wow this appears to be a very mixed bag indeed! Some random things here, I must admit I am so curious about this yellow slug story now! Although reading about children hurting each other I’m quite sensitive too, I find it so emotional to read about

    Liked by 1 person

    • The yellow slug story is more serious than a lot of the stories – I always feel that author was genuinely angry about the way children were treated in society, and it comes through in more than one of his stories. However, in this one at least, the outcome for the children is optimistic… 😀

      Liked by 1 person

Please leave a comment - I'd love to know who's visiting and what you think...of the post, of the book, of the blog, of life, of chocolate...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.