Capital Crimes: London Mysteries edited by Martin Edwards

capital crimes london mysteriesThe streets of London…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

From Sherlock Holmes to Lacey Flint, many of the detectives I have loved over the years have been based in London. And why not? One of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world with a history stretching back for over a millennium, it has always been a contrast of bright lights and dark alleyways, extreme wealth and desperate poverty, and every one of its ancient streets is drenched in the blood of the victims of its horrid past. Visitors love nothing more than to shiver in the London Dungeon, to thrill to the stories of ancient beheadings in the Tower, to make a pilgrimage to those famous rooms in Baker Street. What river has been the escape route for more criminals and the final resting place for more victims than the Thames? Who can think of Whitechapel without their thoughts turning to the eviscerated victims of Jack the Ripper?

london fog

So what better venue for a collection of classic crime stories? In this book, Martin Edwards has selected 17 stories from the Golden Age of crime writing, some from names we are still familiar with – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Margery Allingham, Edgar Wallace – but many from authors who have since faded into obscurity. He has arranged them into rough chronological order, allowing us to see the gradual transition from the heyday of the amateur detective to the beginnings of the police procedural with which we’re more familiar today. The overall standard of the stories is variable, as in any collection, but I found most of them good or excellent, with only a couple that I felt really hadn’t stood the test of time. But even these added something to the collection in showing how trends were just as strong in early crime-writing as they are now. For example, I was underwhelmed by Richard Marsh’s The Finchley Puzzle, starring deaf, lip-reading amateur detective Judith Lee, but was intrigued to note that there seemed to be a fashion around that time for detectives with a physical quirk, since a couple of stories later we meet Ernest Bramah’s blind detective Max Carradine – not unlike our current obsession with autistic detectives, but happily without the angst (or drunkenness).

Martin Edwards
Martin Edwards

The influence of Holmes and Watson is clear in some of the partnerships between brilliant detectives and admiring narrators, (though I suppose I should grudgingly give the credit to Poe’s Dupin and his unnamed narrator really). R Austin Freeman’s Dr Thorndyke in particular struck me as very Sherlockian, as did the aforementioned Max Carradine.

Many of the stories rely on intricate plots – ‘locked room’ mysteries, innovative murder methods, unbreakable alibis, etc. But others veer more strongly towards the psychological, using atmosphere to great effect to build suspense, and a couple of them could easily be classed as horror as much as crime. I’ve already highlighted a couple of the stories as part of my Tuesday ‘Tec! slot – Edgar Wallace’s The Stealer of Marble and John Oxenham’s A Mystery of the Underground – but to give you a fuller flavour of the collection, here are a few more that stood out for me…

The Case of Lady Sannox by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – this revenge story is definitely more horror than detection, telling the tale of a husband avenging himself against the man who is having an affair with his wife. A truly horrifying ending! And a great way to kick off the collection.

The Tea Leaf by Robert Eustace and Edgar Jepson – two men enter a room in a Turkish Bath, argue loudly, and only one leaves alive. But no murder weapon is found on the survivor or in the room. How was the murder done, and who is the killer? A fine example of a ‘locked room’ mystery with a unique method of killing.

The Little House by HC Bailey – amateur detective Reggie Fortune is asked to look into the case of a missing kitten, but this soon becomes an extremely chilling look at a case of child cruelty. The writing style is a bit staccato but the story is powerful with a strong sense of anger and justice.

The Case of Lady Sannox
The Case of Lady Sannox

The Silver Mask by Hugh Walpole – the story of the collection for me, and I will definitely be looking for more of Walpole’s work. This tells of a middle-aged lady whose loneliness and maternal feelings are played on by an unscrupulous young man. The way Walpole describes the woman’s character is very true and touching, and I found the portrayal of the unintended carelessness of her friends and family quite moving. This is another with an atmosphere of terror which mounts all the way through to an ending that is full of dread. Brilliant stuff!

They Don’t Wear Labels by EM Delafield – an intriguing story told from the perspective of the landlady of a married couple living in her lodging house. The woman is suffering from ‘nerves’ and on one evening tells the landlady her husband is trying to murder her. But the husband is so nice to everyone, and seems so kind to his impossible wife – he couldn’t possibly be a murderer…could he? Another psychological study this, of how one can never tell by appearances.

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All round, an excellent collection that I highly recommend to all crime aficionados, and I’m looking forward to reading Edward’s selection in the companion volume, Resorting to Murder.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Poisoned Pen Press, who publish the Kindle version. The paper version is part of the British Library’s Crime Classics series.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

Tuesday ’Tec! A Mystery of the Underground by John Oxenham

capital crimes london mysteriesMind the Gap!

 

We tend to think of the serial killer story as a fairly modern invention but this one was originally published in serial form (no pun intended!) in 1897 in Today, a weekly magazine edited by Jerome K Jerome. I came across it in Capital Crimes: London Mysteries, edited by Martin Edwards, and since the murders all happen on Tuesdays, it seems like a perfect entry for this week’s…

 

Tuesday Tec

 

A Mystery of the Underground
by John Oxenham

 

John Oxenham  aka William Arthur Dunkerley
John Oxenham
aka William Arthur Dunkerley

As an underground train pulls into Charing Cross station one Tuesday evening, a woman is screaming wildly and trying desperately to get out of a first-class carriage. When the station inspector investigates, he discovers the body of a dead man slumped in the corner of the carriage, shot through the heart…

…they stopped and lifted him out of the carriage. The head fell back as they carried him awkwardly across the platform, and the crowd shrank away, silent and scared, at sight of the ghastly limpness and the stains of blood.

This is just the first. From then on, each Tuesday night a new murder is committed, always in the first-class, and with no indication of how the murderer is managing to shoot someone in a moving train, in a sealed compartment with no linking corridor. Our intrepid detective is Charles Lester, reporter on the Link, who chances to be in a neighbouring compartment when the second murder takes place…

The screams had ceased. The silence seemed even more pregnant. While the screams continued something was happening. With their cessation, it – whatever it was – had happened.

First on the scene, Lester meets the police officer in charge of the case, Detective-Sergeant Doane, and forms an informal partnership with him. More murders follow, with the same pattern to each, told to the reader as a series of extracts from Lester’s articles in the Link and extracts from other newspapers. As panic grows, people start to avoid the District Line on Tuesday evenings, though the stations along the line are filled with sensation seekers…

Throngs of people, waiting silently, in a damp fog, peering into carriage after carriage as the almost empty trains rolled slowly, like processions of funeral cars, in and out of the stations.

Charing Cross Station
Charing Cross Station

But, despite policemen being posted on the footplates and railway workers with torches lining the route, still the murders continue, as some brave or foolhardy souls continue to sit in solitary splendour in the first-class carriages rather than mix with the hoi-polloi in the crowded third-class ones.

The matter is really too gruesome for a jest, but Punch certainly hit the case off admirably in Bernard Partridge’s clever sketch of the young City man attracting all the attentions of all the beauties in the drawing-room by the simple assertion that he had travelled from town by the District Railway, in a first-class carriage, all by himself, while the season’s lions scowl at him from a distance, and twirl their moustaches, and growl in their neglected corners.

Eventually Lester suggests to Doane that he, Lester, should put himself forward as bait. Wearing a protective steel breast-plate, he will travel the line, with a policeman hidden on the seat opposite and two more lying on the roof of the carriage. As Doane later remarks somewhat laconically…

Journeying on one’s stomach, stern foremost, on top of the Underground train, is not a mode of locomotion that I can recommend.

Will the plan work? Or will Lester die a heroic but futile death? Will they ever know the reasons behind the crime? You’ll have to read it to find out…

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Overcrowding was a problem then, as now...
Overcrowding was a problem then, as now…

I loved this story. It’s true sensation writing and Edwards tells us in the introduction that it led to a slump in passenger numbers in real life and protests from the Underground authorities. But there’s a lovely vein of humour running through it, and some nice social observations about the avid crowds hoping to see something horrible – a reaction to tragedy and horror that we’re still familiar with today. Oxenham also has a few digs at the class system – at people determined to be ‘first’-class even if it puts their lives at risk. He also speculates on the possible motive, and again there’s an eerie presentiment of present day concerns…

Is it against the Underground railway itself, as a system or a corporation, that this foul fiend is fighting? Or is it some lunatic registering in this gruesome fashion his protest against the influx of foreigners into English business life? – for it is a noticeable fact that three out of the four victims have been foreigners.

Unfortunately, the version in Capital Crimes has been abridged, presumably for space reasons, but the whole section on how Lester finds the killer is simply cut – replaced by a summary paragraph – and then we’re given the final part of the story revealing the motivation. I thought the abridgement was clumsily done, and it took away some of my enjoyment of the story. I can’t find an online version, but it is available as a Kindle book on Amazon – at an exorbitant price though, for a 46-page story. So I do highly recommend it if you can get hold of it, but not so much in the abridged form in this book. I will be adding Oxenham to my list of writers to explore…

* * * * *

Little Grey Cells rating: ❓ (but it’s really not trying to be a mystery)

Overall story rating:      😀 😀 😀 😀 (quite possibly five, had it been unabridged)

TBR Thursday 57…

Episode 57

 

The TBR remains steady at 135! And I’m still reading all the same books as I was reading this time last week – oops! Summer reading slump seems to have started early. Which is odd, since summer itself seems to have forgotten to arrive…

Anyway, here are a few that should make it to the top of the heap soon – a nice, light selection to fit round tennis season…

Factual

 

heath robinson's great warCourtesy of the Bodleian Library. I know about Heath Robinson’s crazy contraption cartoons but don’t think I’ve ever actually seen any. I thought this would a nice palate-cleanser after several recent weighty reads on WW1.

The Blurb says Heath Robinson (1872–1944) is Britain’s “Gadget King”—master of the art of creating madcap contraptions that made use of ropes, weights, and pulleys to perform relatively simple tasks, from wart removal to peeling potatoes. Although he trained as a painter and also worked as a book illustrator, Robinson developed his forte with drawings of gadgets that parodied the absurdities of modern life. A true cartoonist, Robinson had a way of getting at the heart of the matter while simultaneously satirizing it mercilessly. He became a household name in Britain, and his popularity continues today with plans to build a museum in London to share with a new generation the story of his life and work.

With Heath Robinson’s Great War, the cartoonist lampoons the German army and the hardships of war. What better antidote to the threat of popular German propaganda than drawings of the “Huns” disabling the British army not with mustard gas but laughing gas? In high demand among British civilians, Robinson’s WWI panels also provided respite to thousands of troops—many of whom sent the cartoonist letters suggesting future subjects or simply expressing their appreciation. 

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Crime

 

capital crimes london mysteriesCourtesy of NetGalley. I’ve got a couple of these collection of detective stories edited by Martin Edwards coming up. I’ve already peeked into this one for a Tuesday ‘Tec post and it looks like it’ll be fun and interesting…

The Blurb says “With its fascinating mix of people – rich and poor, British and foreign, worthy and suspicious – London is a city where anything can happen. The possibilities for criminals and for the crime writer are endless. London has been home to many of fiction’s finest detectives, and the setting for mystery novels and short stories of the highest quality. Capital Crimes is an eclectic collection of London-based crime stories, blending the familiar with the unexpected in a way that reflects the personality of the city. Alongside classics by Margery Allingham, Anthony Berkeley and Thomas Burke are excellent and unusual stories by authors who are far less well known. The stories give a flavour of how writers have tackled crime in London over the span of more than half a century. Their contributions range from an early serial-killer thriller set on the London Underground and horrific vignettes to cerebral whodunits. What they have in common is an atmospheric London setting, and enduring value as entertainment. Each story is introduced by the editor, Martin Edwards, who sheds light on the authors’ lives and the background to their writing. ”

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Audio

 

the lion the witch and the wardrobeI always enjoy listening to books I know well, read by good narrators. All seven of the Narnia books are available in this series from Harper, each with a different narrator, including such stars as Derek Jacobi, Patrick Stewart and Kenneth Branagh! This first one is narrated by Michael York, another actor with a lovely voice. I’ll be listening in order of publication, rather than the chronology of the stories.

The Blurb says “It’s a magic wardrobe. There’s a wood inside it, and it’s snowing! Come and see,” begged Lucy.

Lucy has stumbled upon a marvellous land of fauns and centaurs, nymphs and talking animals. But soon she discovers that it is ruled by the cruel White Witch, and can only be freed by Aslan, the great Lion, and four children.

In the never-ending war between good and evil, The Chronicles of Narnia set the stage for battles of epic proportions. Some take place in vast fields, where the forces of light and darkness clash. But other battles occur within the small chambers of the heart and are equally decisive.

Journeys to the ends of the world, fantastic creatures, betrayals, heroic deeds, and friendships won and lost, all come together in an unforgettable world of magic. So let the adventures begin.

* * * * *

Crime

 

time of deathCourtesy of NetGalley. I read and enjoyed the first few of the Tom Thorne books and then lost track of the series. Time to renew an old acquaintance…

The Blurb saysThe astonishing thirteenth Tom Thorne novel is a story of kidnapping, the tabloid press, and a frightening case of mistaken identity.

Tom Thorne is on holiday with his girlfriend DS Helen Weeks, when two girls are abducted in Helen’s home town. When a body is discovered and a man is arrested, Helen recognizes the suspect’s wife as an old school-friend and returns home for the first time in twenty-five years to lend her support. As his partner faces up to a past she has tried desperately to forget and a media storm engulfs the town, Thorne becomes convinced that, despite overwhelming evidence of his guilt, the police have got the wrong man. There is still an extremely clever and killer on the loose and a missing girl who Thorne believes might still be alive.”

* * * * *

 

NB All blurbs taken from NetGalley or Goodreads.

So…what do you think? Do any of these tempt you?

Tuesday ’Tec! The Stealer of Marble by Edgar Wallace

capital crimes london mysteriesSkulduggery in the City…

 

Capital Crimes: London Mysteries is a collection of crime short stories, edited by Martin Edwards, published as part of the British Library Crime Classics series. Many of the stories are by authors I’ve never heard of, much less read, but there are a few well-known names amongst them too. I’ll be reviewing the full collection at some point in the future, but here’s a little taster from the pen of one of the best thriller writers of his time, for this week’s…

Tuesday Tec

The Stealer of Marble by Edgar Wallace

 

Edgar Wallace
Edgar Wallace

This story was first published in 1925 as part of a 12-story collection entitled The Mind of Mr J G Reeder. Mild-mannered Mr Reeder works for the Public Prosecutor’s Department, and his fascination for all things criminal sometimes enables him to see through puzzles that leave the police baffled.

Rumours have been going round the City that Telfers Consolidated, an old family-run business, might be about to hit the rocks. Its founder is long-dead and the company is now in the hands of his grandson, Sidney Telfer, a weak young man with no head for business. Sidney’s secretary, Margaret Belman, is coincidentally a neighbour of Mr Reeder’s, though they only know each other as nodding acquaintances.

'The_Mind_of_Mr._J.G._Reader'

Miss Belman is a pretty young woman, who’s walking out with a respectable young man. So she is shocked when one day, out of the blue, her employer asks her to run away with him to South America. The next day, Sidney’s begs her to tell no-one of his proposition, promising that he would marry her as soon as some legal difficulties could be got over. Miss Belman finds no difficulty in turning him down flat, and you can understand why…

The room, with its stained-glass windows and luxurious furnishing, fitted Mr Telfer perfectly, for he was exquisitely arrayed. He was tall and so painfully thin that the abnormal smallness of his head was not at first apparent. As the girl came into the room he was sniffing delicately at a fine cambric handkerchief, and she thought that he was paler than she had ever seen him – and more repellent.

Later that same day, an employee of Telfers, a Mr Billingham, embezzles £150,000 from the firm, bringing it crashing down. Mr Billingham disappears and the best efforts of the police fail to trace him. Because of the size of the theft, the Public Prosecutor’s Department sends in Mr Reeder, but at first he is also at something of a loss. However, one day a few weeks later, Mr Reeder is indulging his hobby of watching criminal court cases, when a woman appears in the dock, accused of having stolen marble chips from a stonemason’s yard. At first intrigued by the strangeness of the crime, Mr Reeder becomes even more interested when it is revealed that the woman is Sidney Telfer’s housekeeper, who had also acted as guardian to Sidney after the death of his parents.

Hugh Burden as Mr Reeder in the 1969 Thames Television series based on the stories
Hugh Burden as Mr Reeder in the 1969 Thames Television series based on the stories

Mr Reeder lets his mind work over his favourite game of patience, and soon figures out the connection between the housekeeper, the stolen marble and the disappearance of Mr Billingham and the money. Have you? No, I didn’t either, and I’m not totally sure it would be possible to on the basis of the information the reader is given – but it’s a lovely puzzle with a nice old-fashioned feel to it, back in the days when fictional criminals came up with more imaginative methods of committing their crimes. The tone of the story has something of a similar feel to the more quirky of the Holmes stories, but is lighter, with one eye always on the humorous aspect. Although there’s a bit of a thrillerish ending, there’s never any real doubt that Mr Reeder will get everything sorted out. I enjoyed the writing style – I don’t know that it would work for novel length, but it made for a very entertaining short story.

“Put down that jug or I will blow your features into comparative chaos!” said Mr Reeder pedantically.

The characterisation is surprisingly good given how little room there is for development, and there’s a clear distinction between the baddies and the goodies. And while the solution to the puzzle is one of the more far-fetched I’ve come across, it works in the context and style of the story. I feel I may have to track down some more of Mr Reeder’s adventures…

* * * * *

Little Grey Cells rating: ❓ ❓ ❓

Overall story rating:      😀 😀 😀 😀