A thirteenth batch of murder, mystery and mayhem…
This is a challenge to read all 102 (102? Yes, 102) books listed in Martin Edwards’ guide to vintage crime, The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books. (100? Yes, 100.) Because of all the other great vintage crime being republished at the moment, I’m going very slowly with this challenge and they’ve proved to be a bit of a mixed bag so far, though with more winners than losers. Here’s the second batch for 2022 and the thirteenth overall…
Calamity Town by Ellery Queen
This one just failed to win a recent People’s Choice poll, but here it is getting its day in the sun anyway. I read a few Ellery Queens back in the previous millennium, and liked rather than loved them. It’s been a long time though, so I’m keen to see how they strike me now…
The Blurb says: Looking for trouble, Ellery Queen descends on a small town.
At the tail end of the long summer of 1940, there is nowhere in the country more charming than Wrightsville. The Depression has abated, and for the first time in years the city is booming. There is hope in Wrightsville, but Ellery Queen has come looking for death.
The mystery author is hoping for fodder for a novel, and he senses the corruption that lurks beneath the apple pie façade. He rents a house owned by the town’s first family, whose three daughters star in most of the local gossip. One is fragile, left at the altar three years ago and never recovered. Another is engaged to the city’s rising political star, an upright man who’s already boring her. And then there’s Lola, the divorced, bohemian black sheep. Together, they make a volatile combination. Once he sees the ugliness in Wrightsville, Queen sits back — waiting for the crime to come to him.
Book No: 93
Subject Heading: Across the Atlantic
Publication Year: 1942
Martin Edwards says: “Wrightsville life, and the passions swirling within its troubled first family, are splendidly evoked, and the literary quality and style of the novel meant that it represented a landmark in the long series of mysteries written by and starring Ellery Queen.”
* * * * *
Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal by Roy Horniman
The Blurb says: Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal is a 1907 darkly comic novel written by Roy Horniman, telling the tale of the eponymous anti-hero’s campaign to cut back his family tree and inherit the aristocratic status of his hated relatives.
Told from his condemned cell, the story charts – in surprisingly lurid detail – how Rank goes from the status of poor relation, to advancing in life by killing off the six relatives standing in the way of him succeeding to his family seat.
Set against a backdrop of Edwardian snobbery, upper-class ritual, and casual antisemitism, Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal is darker than the film it went on to inspire.
It is also a fast-paced, engaging, and beautifully-rendered thriller – both disturbing and funny in equal measure.
Book No: 5
Subject Heading: A New Era Dawns
Publication Year: 1907
Edwards says: “Horniman devoted much of his life to vigorous campaigns for unpopular causes, and overall, it seems fair to regard his book as a condemnation of anti-Semitism, rather than some form of endorsement of it, while there is something quite modern about the book’s flourishes of irony.“
* * * * *
The Floating Admiral by The Detection Club
The Blurb says: Inspector Rudge does not encounter many cases of murder in the sleepy seaside town of Whynmouth. But when an old sailor lands a rowing boat containing a fresh corpse with a stab wound to the chest, the Inspector’s investigation immediately comes up against several obstacles. The vicar, whose boat the body was found in, is clearly withholding information, and the victim’s niece has disappeared. There is clearly more to this case than meets the eye – even the identity of the victim is called into doubt. Inspector Rudge begins to wonder just how many people have contributed to this extraordinary crime and whether he will ever unravel it…
In 1931, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and ten other crime writers from the newly-formed ‘Detection Club’ collaborated in publishing a unique crime novel. In a literary game of consequences, each author would write one chapter, leaving G.K. Chesterton to write a typically paradoxical prologue and Anthony Berkeley to tie up all the loose ends. In addition, each of the authors provided their own solution in a sealed envelope, all of which appeared at the end of the book, with Agatha Christie’s ingenious conclusion acknowledged at the time to be ‘enough to make the book worth buying on its own’.
The authors of this novel are: G. K. Chesterton, Canon Victor Whitechurch, G. D. H. Cole and Margaret Cole, Henry Wade, Agatha Christie, John Rhode, Milward Kennedy, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ronald Knox, Freeman Wills Crofts, Edgar Jepson, Clemence Dane and Anthony Berkeley.
Book No: 27
Subject Heading: Play Up! Play Up! and Play the Game!
Publication Year: 1931
Edwards says: “In her introduction, Sayers explained the authors approach: “Here, the problem was made to approach as closely as possible to a problem of real detection. Except in the case of Mr Chesterton’s picturesque Prologue, which was written last, each contributor tackled the mystery presented to him in the preceding chapters without having slightest idea what solution or solutions the previous authors had in mind.“
* * * * *
The Medbury Fort Murder by George Limnelius
The Blurb says: The Medbury Fort Murder, first published in 1929 for the Crime Club, is a ‘golden-age’ murder mystery involving the killing of an unpopular British Army officer stationed at an out-of-the way post in England. Loathsome Lt. Lepean is found with his throat cut and his head nearly severed from his body in a locked room at the isolated Medbury Fort situated on the Thames. Lepean was not at all admired among his fellow soldiers. The arrogant, sneering soldier was a known user of women and is revealed early on to be a ruthless blackmailer. There are at least four men who had very good reason to kill Lepean, two of them were being blackmailed. Was it one of them who slew the soldier or someone else?
Book No: 30
Subject Heading: Miraculous Murders
Publication Year: 1929
Edwards says: “The cast of suspects is small, but Limnelius handles his narrative with aplomb, engaging the reader’s sympathy with both the hunters and the hunted. His no-nonsense treatment of sex and violence is hardly in keeping with the lazily conventional view of Golden Age fiction as ‘cosy’, and the attention he pays to characterisation is equally striking.”
All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.
The quotes from Martin Edwards are from his book,
The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books.
* * * * *