Bodies from the Library 5 edited by Tony Medawar

The mystery of the missing stories…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

This series of “forgotten stories of mystery and suspense” has now become an annual event, and one I look forward to. The stories are all ones that haven’t been collected before, or occasionally have never been published. Every year I feel the well must run dry but each year Tony Medawar proves me wrong. He ranges widely to find his treasures – through old magazines and newspapers, into the BBC archives for radio scripts, digging out stories written originally to boost a charity or good cause, and so on. There are sixteen stories in this collection, ranging from a few pages up to novella-length, and lots of familiar names show up, some very well known – John Dickson Carr, Dorothy L Sayers, Ellis Peters, etc. – and others who are becoming well known to those of us who are reading a lot of the vintage crime currently being re-issued by various publishers – Michael Gilbert, Anthony Berkeley, John Bude, et al. The quality is more consistent than it sometimes is in anthologies – I gave most of the stories a solid four-star rating, with just a couple that didn’t work for me, and a sprinkling that gained themselves the full galaxy of five stars.

Here’s a flavour of a few of my favourites:

The Ginger King by AEW Mason – Inspector Hanaud of the French police is in London, visiting his “Watson”, Ricardo. Because of his expertise, an insurance company asks him to look into a fire at a shop owned by a Syrian furrier. (Yes, there are some unfortunate out-dated racist attitudes – it’s a hazard of the era.) I particularly enjoyed this one because a cat plays a major role – the ginger king of the title. Happily the cat survives unscathed! Lots of humour in this one and a good, imaginative criminal method. Hanaud is more fun when he’s being a foreigner in England than when he’s in France, in my limited experience, especially since he mangles English idioms for our amusement.

Benefit of the Doubt by Anthony Berkeley – This is told as if it were a ‘true’ story, related by an elderly medical man about an incident that happened to him when he was a young, inexperienced doctor. One night he is called out by a worried young wife to see her older husband. However the man appears fine and jokingly assures the doctor his wife just likes to worry, so the doctor leaves it at that. But the next day the man is dead. The wife doesn’t blame the doctor, and since she doesn’t want an inquest and the doctor fears the possibility of being found to have been negligent, he signs the death certificate. That’s not the end of the story, though… A really good picture of a generally moral man doing the easy thing rather than the right thing, and how he himself perceives his own actions at the other end of his career.

The Magnifying Glass by Cyril Hare. A very short story, this one, and not a mystery. It involves two men fighting over some forged banknotes. One murders the other, and then tries to break into the murdered man’s safe. It’s a scorching hot day with a dazzling sun, and Hare uses the heat and the murderer’s awareness that someone may arrive at any time to build up a great atmosphere of tension. Can’t say more since it’s very short, but there’s a lovely twist in the tail.

The ‘What’s My Line’ Murder by Julian Symons. During a live recording, one of the panellists dies – poisoned – and another panellist, Gilbert Harding, investigates. Even my great age isn’t great enough to have a clear recollection of What’s My Line – a long-long-ago TV panel game, where the regular panellists had to guess the profession of mystery guests by asking them questions. However, the story stands even if you don’t remember the show. Symons includes some of the actual panellists – Gilbert Harding was one of them – and I did have a vague memory of one or two of them so that added to the fun, though I felt fairly confident that while he could make one of them be the detective he couldn’t make a real person be the murderer! A good mystery, entertainingly written.

So another great addition to this series – I hope Collins Crime Club continue to bring these out for several more years to come, so long as that well doesn’t dry up!

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

Amazon UK Link

35 thoughts on “Bodies from the Library 5 edited by Tony Medawar

  1. This sounds great! I’m very interested in the Anthony Berkeley one, even though I tend to find his writing quite unpleasant – he had such peculiar views about women. The premise is great though – I read a PD James collection earlier this year that had a lot of stories told by people looking back at events many decades previously, and I think it’s a lovely construction for a story.

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    • I think I actually prefer Berkeley’s short stories to his novels – he always thinks up interesting scenarios and the shortness doesn’t give him room to be quite so objectionable! I like the looking back scenario too – we all do it in real life, and wonder what on earth made us do some of the things we did when we were young! (Or is that just me… 😉 )

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  2. The Bodies From the Library series is such an excellent set of collections, isn’t it, FictionFan? And the effort to find and collect them is considerable – I don’t know how he does that time and again! These sound like some great stories, too. I’m glad you found them so consistently good. So often these collections are a bit uneven.

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    • It really is – full of unexpected treats! I’ve been particularly impressed by some of the radio scripts, which I wouldn’t have expected to enjoy. I’m just amazed Medawar manages to find so many each year. Long may it last!

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    • No, it’s a contemporary setting, about a young honeymoon couple who are overheard by a rich woman talking about their struggle to afford a home, so she offers them a house for a ridiculously low price. But there’s a reason behind her generosity… It’s quirky and fun, with a touch of wicked humour. 😀

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      • I was surprised to discover he died when I was 12, since I seem to remember him as a staple on BBC panel shows. Curmudgeonly, dismissive, an Alan Whicker lookalike with thick-rimmed glasses and a moustache – that’s my impression.

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        • That sounds right, physically at least. I looked to see if I could find a picture of them all to include in the post, but while I could find them all individually I couldn’t get one of them all together.

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  3. These collections always tempt me and I have the first volume on my wishlist How was the Ellis Peters story? I loved her Brother Cadfael mysteries and still have a book (tome!) on the shelf published under her real name.

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    • On the whole it’s been a great series – I think the third one is the only one I found a bit disappointing. I haven’t read the first one, though – I came in at Book 2. The Ellis Peters story was good – a contemporary setting, about a young honeymoon couple who are overheard by a rich woman discussing their struggles to afford a home. So she offers them a house at a ridiculously low price. But there’s a reason more than generosity behind her offer! It’s quirky and well done, with a kind of wicked humour in it. Not like Cadfael at all, in fact!

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  4. This does sound like a good collection. And they’re short stories. And I can possibly be persuaded to take a look. I especially like the sound of the one where the doctor’s afraid of being found negligent. Interesting. Very interesting.

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    • I’m enjoying all these anthologies this year – it’s a Golden Age for them! Berkeley is always an interesting writer, though his attitudes to women can be a bit annoying. I think that’s why I prefer his shorts to his novels – less room for him to be obnoxious! 😉

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    • Yes, I’m amazed every year that he manages to find so many interesting unknown stories. I’ve only read one Cyril Hare novel, which I loved, and two or three shorts, I think. I have one of his novels sitting on my TBR – he’s another of the many hidden gems I’d like to explore further.

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  5. Well the Ginger King obviously piqued my interest, love a cat-themed story, especially if they end up being the hero in the end! A like a nice quirky short story too, heat always ratchets up the tension!

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