Miraculous Mysteries edited by Martin Edwards

Locked doors don’t guarantee safety…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

Anyone who’s been reading my blog over this last year or two will be aware that I have developed something of an addiction for the themed anthologies being published under the British Library Crime Classics label. This one concentrates on “impossible” crimes – “locked room” mysteries and others of the kind where the emphasis is more on how it was done than on whodunit. As always, the stories have been selected by Martin Edwards who gives a brief introduction to each one telling a little about the author. They’re printed in rough chronological order, covering the period from the beginning of the 20th century (or just before) through to 1960.

There are lots of well-known names here – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Dorothy L Sayers, Margery Allingham, etc – as well as some more obscure authors, some of whom have appeared in the earlier anthologies and some who I think are making their first appearance. The crimes are a lot of fun, ranging from the fiendishly clever but quite possible to work out if you have that kind of mind, to ones that rely on something that couldn’t have been known – trick doors or things of that nature. I did guess a few, but was baffled by plenty, and even the easier to solve ones are still entertaining.

As with all anthologies, the quality is variable but I must say I think the average standard throughout this collection is actually higher than in some of the earlier collections. Perhaps this kind of puzzle just appeals more to me, but I don’t think that’s it, really – I think this is just a particularly good group of stories. There are sixteen of them in total, and I ranked ten of them as either 4 or 5 stars, with only one getting a rating lower than 3 (and that was the GK Chesterton story, which can be put down to my own prejudice – I simply don’t enjoy his style).

Here’s a flavour of a few of the ones I enjoyed most:

The Lost Special by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – a special train goes missing between two stations and, though the driver is later found dead by the side of the tracks, nothing is heard of the passengers or other crew for eight years…until a man waiting to be executed in France reveals how it was done. ACD is a master storyteller and builds up a nice air of almost supernatural mystery around the disappearance, though the answer is firmly of this world. And there’s a brief cameo appearance from an anonymous man who writes to a newspaper with a possible solution to the crime – a man who sounds very like a certain consulting detective we all know and love…

The Diary of Death by Marten Cumberland – when a woman dies in poverty, she leaves behind a diary blaming all her former friends for deserting her in her time of need. Now someone is bumping those friends off one by one. Loreto Santos, an amateur ‘tec from Spain, is on site when the third murder happens in a locked room during a house party. In truth, the method in this one is blindingly obvious, but the writing is very good, there’s some nice characterisation and the story is interesting, so that being able to work out how it was done didn’t spoil the entertainment.

The Music-Room by Sapper – Forty years earlier, a man was found killed in the middle of the locked music room. No-one ever worked out how it happened. Now, during a dinner party, the new owner of the house tells the old tale to his guests. Later that night, his nephew and business partner is killed in the same room, apparently accidentally. But amateur sleuth Ronald Standish is unconvinced. This is one of the ones where it wouldn’t really be possible to work out the how – though one can make a rough guess – and the who is relatively obvious. But the plotting is tight and the telling of the story is done very well.

I could just as easily have highlighted any of half a dozen others, and now feel quite qualified to bump off anyone who annoys me in ways that will baffle the greatest detective minds. So probably best if you were to send me some chocolate, just to be on the safe side…

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Poisoned pen Press.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

Book 1

TBR Thursday 125…

Episode 125…

It’s been a rollercoaster week for the old TBR this week! For a brief moment, it actually topped the dreaded 200 mark reaching 201, but a heroic effort on my part to read like billy-oh for days on end means it’s back down to a much more psychologically acceptable 197½ – phew! Admittedly outstanding review copies have increased 1 to 36, and I have about six unwritten reviews, but still… I reckon I deserve a reward…

Aaaah! Imagine what my reward will be once I’ve read these ones too…

Factual/Crime

Courtesy of NetGalley and one of my 20 Books of Summer, this is a companion piece to all the lovely British Library Crime Classics. Sounds great, and I can feel another challenge coming on…

The Blurb says: This book tells the story of crime fiction published during the first half of the twentieth century. The diversity of this much-loved genre is breathtaking, and so much greater than many critics have suggested. To illustrate this, the leading expert on classic crime discusses one hundred books ranging from The Hound of the Baskervilles to Strangers on a Train which highlight the entertaining plots, the literary achievements, and the social significance of vintage crime fiction. This book serves as a companion to the acclaimed British Library Crime Classics series but it tells a very diverse story. It presents the development of crime fiction-from Sherlock Holmes to the end of the golden age-in an accessible, informative and engaging style.

Readers who enjoy classic crime will make fascinating discoveries and learn about forgotten gems as well as bestselling authors. Even the most widely read connoisseurs will find books (and trivia) with which they are unfamiliar-as well as unexpected choices to debate. Classic crime is a richly varied and deeply pleasurable genre that is enjoying a world-wide renaissance as dozens of neglected novels and stories are resurrected for modern readers to enjoy. The overriding aim of this book is to provide a launch point that enables readers to embark on their own voyages of discovery.

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Fiction

From the Scottish Fiction section of my Classics Club list. In truth I had never heard of this book or author until I started looking for Scottish classics, so it will be a leap into the dark…

The Blurb says: A ‘gowk storm’ is an untimely fall of snow in early Spring – a fitting symbol for the anguished story that unfolds. Nearly a hundred years ago, three girls were born to a minister and his wife in a remote Highland manse; the rigid patriarchal structure of the times is set against their approaching womanhood and growing awareness of life beyond the safety of home.

After the disposal by marriage of the eldest, the sisters’ lives reach a new level of intensity. Emmy, the middle sister, finds to her horror that she is falling in love with her best friend’s fiancée. The unfortunate couple become estranged and a tragic outcome seems inevitable in the brooding symbolism of this disturbing story.

The Gowk Storm, published in 1933, was one of many award-winning books written by Nancy Brysson Morrison.

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Fiction

Courtesy of Amazon Vine UK. Also one of my 20 Books, plus I’m hoping it might work for my Reading the Russian Revolution Challenge too. I thoroughly enjoyed his last book, Rules of Civility, though this one sounds very different…

The Blurb says: On 21 June 1922 Count Alexander Rostov – recipient of the Order of Saint Andrew, member of the Jockey Club, Master of the Hunt – is escorted out of the Kremlin, across Red Square and through the elegant revolving doors of the Hotel Metropol.

But instead of being taken to his usual suite, he is led to an attic room with a window the size of a chessboard. Deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, the Count has been sentenced to house arrest indefinitely.

While Russia undergoes decades of tumultuous upheaval, the Count, stripped of the trappings that defined his life, is forced to question what makes us who we are. And with the assistance of a glamorous actress, a cantankerous chef and a very serious child, Rostov unexpectedly discovers a new understanding of both pleasure and purpose.

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Crime on Audio

I’m loving revisiting some old favourites on audio, in the company of some wonderful narrators. This is another read by Hugh Fraser, whose voice is up there in my list of Top 3 Most Gorgeous Voices in the History of the Universe. (Simon Shepherd and Derek Jacobi, in case you were wondering.)

The Blurb says: A dentist lies murdered at his Harley Street practice…

The dentist was found with a blackened hole below his right temple. A pistol lay on the floor near his outflung right hand. Later, one of his patients was found dead from a lethal dose of local anaesthetic. A clear case of murder and suicide. But why would a dentist commit a crime in the middle of a busy day of appointments?

A shoe buckle holds the key to the mystery. Now – in the words of the rhyme – can Poirot pick up the sticks and lay them straight?

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NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads.

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

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Bookish selfie…

A snapshot of my reading week in quotes…

….‘My God!’ exclaimed the prince. From his standing position, he had a better view of the situation. I threw open my door, but before I could move, the man in saffron had stood up. He had wild eyes between dirty, matted hair, an unkempt beard and what looked like streaks of ash smeared vertically on his forehead. In his hand an object glinted and my insides turned to ice.
….‘Get down!’ I shouted to the prince while fumbling with the button on my holster, but he was like a rabbit hypnotised by a cobra. The attacker raised his revolver and fired. The first shot hit the car’s windscreen with a crack, shattering the glass. I turned to see Surrender-not desperately grabbing at the prince, trying to pull him down.
….All too late.
….As the next two shots rang out, I knew they would find their mark. Both hit the prince squarely in the chest. For a few seconds he just stood there, as though he really was divine and the bullets had passed straight through him. Then blotches of bright crimson blood began to soak through the silk of his tunic and he crumpled, like a paper cup in the monsoon.

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Lenin the Dictator by Victor Sebestyen

….The public Lenin adopted a highly populist style of politics that would be recognisable – and imitated by many a rabble-rouser – a hundred years later, even in long-established, sophisticated democracies. He offered simple solutions to complex problems. He lied unashamedly. He was never a sparkling orator, as Kerensky and Trotsky were in their varying ways. But he was brilliant at presenting a case in direct, straightforward language that anyone could understand, and explaining how the world could be changed if only people would listen to him and his Bolsheviks… he argued that people had heard too much from experts. ‘Any worker will master any ministry in a few days, no special skill is needed…’

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….His eyes were lifted meaningly to his listener’s face, and in a flash Loreto understood.
….‘Good God!’ he cried. ‘You were a friend of Lilian Hope! You have not been threatened by…’
….‘Yes,’ said Sir George, grimly. ‘I am the next on the list.’
….He drew a fairly large envelope from his breast pocket and extracted some folded papers. They were dingy and faintly yellow; one edge of the paper was jagged where it had been torn from the book, and Loreto immediately recognised these sheets as pages from Lilian Hope’s fatal diary.
….‘Poor Lilian!’ murmured the old man. ‘She was a wonderful creature, and I loved her once, though she never treated me too well. I had her picture – kept it for years, but my wife grew jealous. Poor Lilian! To think that she was in such poverty, and that she died in such a frame of mind!’

From: The Diary of Death by Marten Cumberland

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….She cooked or did laundry and then with the remaining soapy water washed the floors in the house. Or, calm and less flushed, she ironed and mended her own, his, and Katenka’s linen. Or, having finished with the cooking, laundry, and tidying up, she gave lessons to Katenka. Or, burying herself in textbooks, she occupied herself with her own polemical re-education, before going back to the newly reformed school as a teacher.
….The closer this woman and girl were to him, the less he dared to see them as family, the stricter was the prohibition imposed upon his way of thinking by his duty to his family and his pain at being unfaithful to them. In this limitation there was nothing offensive for Lara and Katenka. On the contrary, this non-family way of feeling contained a whole world of respect, excluding casualness and excessive familiarity.
….But this split was always tormenting and wounding, and Yuri Andreevich got used to it as one gets used to an unhealed, often reopening wound.

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….The others went upstairs, a slow unwilling procession. If this had been an old house, with creaking wood, and dark shadows, and heavily panelled walls, there might have been an eerie feeling. But this house was the essence of modernity. There were no dark corners – no possible sliding panels – it was flooded with electric light – everything was new and bright and shining. There was nothing hidden in this house, nothing concealed. It had no atmosphere about it. Somehow, that was the most frightening thing of all. They exchanged good-nights on the upper landing. Each of them went into his or her own room, and each of them automatically, almost without conscious thought, locked the door…

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So…are you tempted?

TBR Thursday 120…

Episode 120…

Aaarghhh! Up another 2 this week, to 197!! And review copies up too, to 35! It’s not my fault – I can’t help it if publishers keep publishing books I can’t resist! I’m sure it’s peaked though – it’ll start falling dramatically soon…

 

Here are a few that should rise to the top of the heap soon…

Fiction

I don’t often get unsolicited books in the mail, but the publishers of this one, Hodder & Stoughton, have sent me this one – twice! (See? It’s not my fault!!) It doesn’t sound like my kind of thing, but you never know. Sometimes it’s good to step off the well-trodden path…

The Blurb says: Minnie has always lived with her sister Clara in her family’s beautiful, grand, yet increasingly dilapidated house Rosemount. Now in her seventies, she finds herself looking back to a life that has been shrouded with sorrow, and a painful secret that she has guarded since her teens.

Eleven-year-old Max, who lives opposite Minnie on the housing estate built in Rosemount’s grounds, has grown up happily with his single mother. But his mum has begun a new relationship and suddenly life is starting to change.

As each of them tell their stories, she via a resurrected childhood journal, him via a Dictaphone, they spot each other through their bedroom windows and slowly and hesitantly an unlikely friendship begins to form. A friendship that might just help Max come to terms with the present and enable Minnie, finally, to lay to rest the ghosts of her past…

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Sword and Sandals…

And talking of stepping off the path, it’s been a while since I read a rip-roaring sword and sandals adventure! Cornwell has a great reputation and I’ve been meaning to try one of his books for a long time. I’m doing a readalong of this one with a friend and have already started it…

 The Blurb says: This is the exciting—yet little known—story of the making of England in the 9th and 10th centuries, the years in which King Alfred the Great, his son and grandson defeated the Danish Vikings who had invaded and occupied three of England’s four kingdoms.

The story is seen through the eyes of Uhtred, a dispossessed nobleman, who is captured as a child by the Danes and then raised by them so that, by the time the Northmen begin their assault on Wessex (Alfred’s kingdom and the last territory in English hands) Uhtred almost thinks of himself as a Dane. He certainly has no love for Alfred, whom he considers a pious weakling and no match for Viking savagery, yet when Alfred unexpectedly defeats the Danes and the Danes themselves turn on Uhtred, he is finally forced to choose sides. By now he is a young man, in love, trained to fight and ready to take his place in the dreaded shield wall. Above all, though, he wishes to recover his father’s land, the enchanting fort of Bebbanburg by the wild northern sea.

This thrilling adventure—based on existing records of Bernard Cornwell’s ancestors—depicts a time when law and order were ripped violently apart by a pagan assault on Christian England, an assault that came very close to destroying England.

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Fiction on Audio…

Darcy reading Graham Greene to me??? If I suddenly disappear, it will probably be because I have swooned entirely away…

The Blurb says: Graham Greene’s evocative analysis of the love of self, the love of another, and the love of God is an English classic that has been translated for the stage, the screen, and even the opera house.

Academy Award-winning actor Colin Firth (The King’s Speech, A Single Man) turns in an authentic and stirring performance for this distinguished audio release. The End of the Affair, set in London during and just after World War II, is the story of a flourishing love affair between Maurice Bendrix and Sarah Miles. After a violent episode at Maurice’s apartment, Sarah suddenly and without explanation breaks off the affair.

This very intimate story about what actually constitutes love is enhanced by Mr. Firth’s narration. “This book struck me very, very particularly at the time when I read it and I thought my familiarity with it would give the journey a personal slant. I’m grateful for this honour,” Firth said when this production was recognized by the Audie Awards as Audiobook of the Year for 2013, “and grateful for the opportunity to narrate one of my favorite stories. A great novel told in the first person makes for the best script an actor could imagine. None better than The End of the Affair…. Theater and film each offer their own challenges and rewards, but narration is a new practice for me and the audiobook performance provides exhilarating possibilities for both actors and listeners. I’m thrilled to be involved in bringing this remarkable work of fiction to a wider audience, and thankful to Audible for offering me the opportunity to perform it and to engage with so many who share my passion for storytelling.”

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Vintage Crime

Courtesy of Poisoned Pen Press via NetGalley, another anthology of vintage short stories from the British Library Crime Classics series, edited by Martin Edwards….

The Blurb says: Impossible crime stories have been relished by puzzle-lovers ever since the invention of detective fiction. Fiendishly intricate cases were particularly well suited to the cerebral type of detective story that became so popular during the ‘golden age of murder’ between the two world wars. But the tradition goes back to the days of Edgar Allan Poe and Wilkie Collins, and impossible crime stories have been written by such luminaries as Arthur Conan Doyle, G.K. Chesterton, Dorothy L. Sayers and Margery Allingham.

This anthology celebrates their work, alongside long-hidden gems by less familiar writers. Together these stories demonstrate the range and high accomplishment of the classic British impossible crime story over more than half a century.

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NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads or Audible.

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

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Crimson Snow: Winter Mysteries edited by Martin Edwards

Deep and crisp and even…

😀 😀 😀 😀

crimson-snowThe latest addition to the British Library themed anthologies of classic crime, this one includes eleven stories all set around the festive season. A great time for people to get together in family gatherings or country house parties, and bump each other off. Who amongst us hasn’t thought that the one thing that would improve Christmas would be the quick dispatching of one of our nearest and dearest, or that the only way to pay for all those gifts would be to hasten the inheritance from one of our much loved rich relatives? Or is that just me? On the basis of the evidence in this book, I’m not alone in thinking Christmas is a particularly jolly time for a murder…

As with the earlier anthologies, this one is introduced and edited by Martin Edwards who also gives a short introduction to each story telling a little about the author. There’s the usual mix of well-known authors – Margery Allingham, Edgar Wallace – and forgotten ones, and as always the quality of the individual stories varies. However, overall I thought this was a more consistent collection than the last couple – none of the stories rate as less than three stars for me and there are plenty of fours and a sprinkling of fives. The lengths also vary from a few pages to a couple of the stories being what I’d think of as novelette length – taking an hour or so to read.

chalk-outline

There’s a nice variety of whodunits and howdunits, some dark and serious, others lighter and more quirky, and a few with ghostly aspects to add to the winter chills. And there’s fog and feverish policemen, and wicked carol-singers, and isolated houses with all access cut off by snow… perfect accompaniment to a mug of hot chocolate and a seat near the fire!

Here are a few of the ones I enjoyed most…

The Ghost’s Touch by Fergus Hume – when the narrator is invited to spend the festive season as a guest in a haunted country house, one feels he should have swiftly invented a prior engagement. However, clearly he doesn’t read crime novels, because off he goes, all cheerful and expecting to have a good time. Hah! After the fire, the ghost, and a meeting with the murderer at the dead of night, I suspect he changed his mind… The plot in this one is totally obvious, but nevertheless the author manages to get a nice atmosphere of tension going, and it’s very well written.

crime-scene-tape

Death in December by Victor Gunn – a great cross between ghost and crime story, this one is probably going to appear on a future Tuesday Terror! post so I won’t go into detail. It’s one of the longer stories in the collection, giving time for a bit more characterisation than usual and both the detectives, grumpy Bill “Ironside” Cromwell and his sidekick, lovely Johnny Lister, are well drawn and fun. There are aspects of both who and how in this one, not to mention some genuinely scary bits, all topped off with a lot of humour. And a nice little bit of detection too…

Mr Cork’s Secret by Macdonald Hastings – When Montague Cork’s firm insures a valuable necklace, Montague begins to worry about its safety. So off he goes with his wife to a top London hotel where the owner of the necklace is expected to be staying. He’s lucky to get a room at such short notice, especially at Christmas time. Not so lucky for the person who vacated the room, though – since he was carried out feet first by the police, headed for the morgue. Could the murder have anything to do with the necklace? It’s up to Montague to find out… This has a nice twist in that when it was originally published the author held one fact back as part of a competition. Edwards has left it like that, but at the end of the book, gives the solution as provided by the author, along with the prize-winners’ suggestions.

handcuffs

Deep and Crisp and Even by Michael Gilbert – PC Petrella is covering for his boss over Christmas, and takes his duties seriously. So it’s unfortunate that he develops a feverish cold leaving him weak and a bit confused. But when he suspects a house in the neighbourhood has been burgled, he’s determined to track the perpetrator, even when he’s near collapse himself. Complete with carol-singing, dreadful weather and seasonal illness, this is a fun little story with a neat twist.

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So plenty of good stuff here, and a lot of the stories make excellent use of either weather or the holidays to add to the atmosphere and tension. I’m thoroughly enjoying these anthologies – even the less good stories are always fun for seeing the different attitudes and writing styles of the time, and the little author bios add a bit of context, putting each story into its appropriate place in the development of crime fiction. I also like the way they’re themed, and this theme in particular works well – I suppose that these would mostly have originally been published in Christmas editions of magazines, and perhaps that inspired the authors to show off their best. Next to the London-themed one, this is probably my favourite of the collections so far. I do hope there will be more…

blood-spatterNB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Poisoned Pen Press.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

Tuesday ’Tec! Ten Top Golden Age Detectives – A Guest Post from Martin Edwards

Warning! This post may be fatal to your TBR…

I am delighted to welcome Martin Edwards to the blog! Any regular visitor will know I’ve been enjoying Martin’s classic crime anthologies over recent months, discovering some long-forgotten authors as well as re-visiting old favourites. So when I got the chance to ask for Martin’s recommendations of essential Golden Age detectives for beginners, you can well imagine I had to be restrained from biting his hand off! So here it is… a very special post for this week’s…

Tuesday Tec2

Ten Top Golden Age Detectives

Many thanks to FictionFan for inviting me to talk about ten terrific Golden Age detectives. Opinions vary about how to define “the Golden Age of detective fiction”, but it’s logical to see it as spanning the years between the end of the First World War, and the beginning of the Second. Yes, detective stories with “Golden Age” elements appeared before, and in particular after, that period, but those characteristics became clearly established in the Twenties and the Thirties. So all the detectives I’ve chosen first appeared during those two decades.

Martin Edwards, who is also the author of his own series of crime novels, the Lake District Mysteries
Martin Edwards, who is also the author of his own series of crime novels,
the Lake District Mysteries

Hercule Poirot

Poirot is an egocentric, and a bundle of mannerisms, but so much more memorable than so many of the gimmicky detectives dreamed up by authors striving to create a worthy successor to Sherlock Holmes. His partnership with the nice but dim Captain Hastings was modelled on the Holmes-Watson relationship, but as Agatha Christie’s confidence grew, she married Hastings off, and gave Poirot free rein to demonstrate his gifts in all-time classics of the genre such as The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and Murder on the Orient Express. Hastings returned in the posthumously published Curtain, one of the under-rated masterpieces of Golden Age fiction, in which Poirot actually…no, you’ll have to read it for yourself.

Poirot
David Suchet as Hercule Poirot

Jane Marple

As down-to-earth as Poirot is eccentric, Miss Marple is a superb creation. Her USP is that, despite having spent her life in a small village, she has gained a deep understanding of human nature, which was shared by her creator, and helps to explain the astonishing and enduring success of Agatha Christie’s work. Miss Marple’s insight into the way that people – rich or poor, and from whatever background  –  behave enables her to identify whodunit when the police are baffled. She relies more on intuition than Poirot, the supreme logician, but her skill as a sleuth is matched by her decency and strength of character. Many talented actors have played Jane Marple, but few people, surely, would deny that Joan Hickson’s interpretation remains definitive.

Miss Marple
Joan Hickson as Miss Marple

Lord Peter Wimsey

Dorothy L. Sayers’ aristocratic sleuth started out as a sort of Bertie Wooster with a magnifying glass, but metamorphosed from an essentially comic, two-dimensional figure into a much more rounded character. The change reflects Sayers’ development (and increasingly lofty ambition) as a novelist, and took place at about the time that Wimsey fell in love with Harriet Vane, a detective novelist who in Strong Poison is on trial for the murder of her lover. Wimsey’s pursuit of Harriet reached a successful conclusion in Gaudy Night, set in academic Oxford, and Sayers’ attempt to transform the detective story into a “novel of manners”.

Dorothy L Sayers
Dorothy L Sayers

Albert Campion

Margery Allingham was an accomplished yet idiosyncratic detective novelist, and it is somehow typical of her unorthodoxy that Campion, her Great Detective, plays a subsidiary role in his first appearance, and seems to be something of a rogue. Like Wimsey, he evolved, but in a different direction, moving to centre stage in stories such as Police at the Funeral and even narrating the story in The Case of the Late Pig. Allingham eventually suggested that he was a member of the Royal Family, thus neatly outdoing Sayers as regards her hero’s blue blood.

Peter Davidson as Campion and Brian Glover as his manservant Lugg
Peter Davidson as Campion and Brian Glover as his manservant Lugg

Mrs Bradley

Gladys Mitchell’s first novel, Speedy Death, introduced one of the most remarkable of all Golden Age detectives, Mrs Bradley, who proceeded to appear in no fewer than 66 novels. There’s nothing meek or feminine about Mrs Bradley, who at one point herself commits murder. This reflects the underlying truth that Golden Age writers were fascinated by the concept of justice, and loved to explore scenarios in which the challenge was: how can one achieve a just outcome, when the established machinery of law and order is helpless? Mrs Bradley – sometimes known as “Mrs Crocodile” – is famously ugly, which makes it all the more baffling that when the books were televised in the late Nineties, she was played by Diana Rigg.

mrs bradley
Diana Rigg and Neil Dudgeon as Mrs Bradley and George Moody

Roger Sheringham

Anthony Berkeley was a cynic who loved to flavour his extremely clever whodunits with irony. His detective, the writer Roger Sheringham, is occasionally offensive, and quite frequently mistaken – he is the most fallible of Golden Age sleuths. It’s typical of Berkeley that, having allowed Roger to solve a very tricky puzzle in the short story “The Avenging Chance”, he expanded the plot into the novel The Poisoned Chocolates Case, and offered Roger’s theory about the crime as one of six different solutions – only for it to be proved mistaken. I’ve had the huge pleasure of devising a brand new explanation of the puzzle in a new edition of the book, to be published by the British Library in October. Suffice to say that, once again, Roger is confounded.

the poisoned chocolates case

Inspector Alleyn

Ngaio Marsh’s Scotland Yard man, Roderick Alleyn, is one of the gentlemanly cops (Michael Innes’ John Appleby is another) favoured by Golden Age writers who worried about the plausibility of having an amateur detective involved in a long series of convoluted murder mysteries. Marsh’s love of the theatre, and of her native New Zealand, provide fascinating backgrounds for several of Alleyn’s cases, such as Vintage Murder, and the quality of her writing, as well as her pleasing storylines, has ensured their continuing popularity.

Patrick Malahide in the BBC's Inspector Alleyn Mysteries, with Belinda Lang as Agatha Troy
Patrick Malahide and Belinda Lang as Roderick Alleyn and Agatha Troy

Dr Gideon Fell

It’s often forgotten that many American authors wrote Golden Age detective stories. Most were overshadowed by private eye stories from the likes of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, but John Dickson Carr’s books about Dr Gideon Fell stand out from the crowd. Carr, an Anglophile, set the Fell stories in Britain, and specialised in macabre and atmospheric stories about seemingly impossible crimes. Fell was modelled on G.K. Chesterton, creator of Father Brown, and gives a memorable “Locked Room Lecture”, discussing different ways of committing a murder in an apparently locked room, in The Hollow Man. Carr’s exceptionally ingenious stories fell out of fashion for a while, but the TV success of Jonathan Creek, and more recently Death in Paradise, shows that a huge audience remains for complex mysteries, solved thanks to mind-blowing ingenuity. When it comes to figuring out locked room mysteries, nobody does it better than Gideon Fell.

Gideon-Fell
Gideon Fell

Inspector French

Freeman Wills Crofts’ Inspector Joseph French is the antithesis of the brilliant maverick detective. He’s a career policeman, not blessed with the aristocratic forebears of Roderick Alleyn, but gifted with a capacity for endless hard work, an eye for detail, and a relentless determination to see justice done. He’s especially adept at dismantling apparently unbreakable alibis. Occasionally, Crofts wrote “inverted mysteries”, in which we see the culprit commit murder so cleverly that he seems sure to get away with it. And then, in books like the intriguing and original zoo-based mystery Antidote to Venom, we watch French remorselessly pursue his prey until justice is done. French is a good man, but an implacable adversary for any criminal.

Inspector Maigret

Georges Simenon is not generally associated with Golden Age detective fiction, because his literary concerns lay much more with people than plot. (His fellow Belgian, the regrettably forgotten S.A Steeman, was much closer in spirit to Agatha Christie). Yet Simenon read and absorbed Christie’s early novels, and several of his stories about the Parisian policeman Inspector Jules Maigret are very clever. Maigret is a splendidly rounded character, a reliable family man admired and respected by his close colleagues. His potential was recognised as early as 1932 by the legendary film-maker Jean Renoir, who cast his brother as Maigret in Night at the Crossroads, and he was brought to life once again on television this year by Rowan Atkinson. Maigret’s thoughtful methods influenced a generation of post-war detectives, including W.J. Burley’s Cornish cop Wycliffe, and Alan Hunter’s Inspector George Gently as well as Gil North’s Sergeant Caleb Cluff.

LA-NUIT-DU-CARREFOUR-1932

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The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards is published by HarperCollins. Martin Edwards has also written the introduction for Sergeant Cluff Stands Firm by Gil North which is being republished by British Library Crime Classics on 12 July to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the author’s birth.

* * * * * * *

Many thanks, Martin, for a most enjoyable and informative post!

I’ll be seeking out the books Martin has mentioned over the next few months – some, like Inspector French and Gideon Fell, will be new to me while others are old acquaintances I’ve neglected for too long. And check back tomorrow for my review of Sergeant Cluff Stands Firm – spoiler alert! I thought it was…. nah! I’ll tell you tomorrow!

Murder at the Manor edited by Martin Edwards

Murderers, maniacs and things that go bump in the night…

😀 😀 😀 🙂

murder at the manorAnother in the British Library Crime Classics series, this is the third anthology of short stories edited by Martin Edwards, following Capital Crimes, stories set in London, and Resorting to Murder, stories with a holiday theme. This one, as the title makes obvious, is full of stories set in the traditional country house, so beloved of murderers that one can’t help but wonder why all the owners didn’t sell up and move into a nice little cottage somewhere. Though no doubt the twisted crime writers of the time would have tracked them down even there…

As Edwards says in his introduction, the country house is an ideal setting for the ‘closed circle’ type of mystery, where the suspects are defined by their presence in the house. It’s from this that the old cliché of “the butler did it” arises, though in fact this rarely was the solution. (In one of these stories, though, the butler did indeed do it, but I’m not telling which one…)

Several of the stories come from the Golden Age between the two wars, but there are also earlier and later ones. Many of the authors who appeared in the previous collections turn up again here and, as usual, they range from household names to the pretty much forgotten. One thing I’ve found, as I’ve read more of these short stories and some of the novels the British Library has revived, is that there’s a good reason for why some authors have remained popular while others have faded from the public consciousness. While the anthologies are interesting for seeing how the genre developed over time, there’s no doubt that the quality of the stories is variable, and with a few exceptions the better ones are from the authors whose names are still more familiar.

Although all of the stories contain a crime, some of them are really more horror than detective and, in fact, I tended to enjoy these more. Overall, I found this collection a little less enjoyable than the other two, though whether that’s because the average quality is lower or just that I’ve surfeited on vintage crime for the moment, I’m not sure. However, as always, there are enough good stories to make the collection well worth reading. Here are some of the ones I liked best…

The Copper Beeches by Arthur Conan Doyle – the story of a young woman hired to look after a child, but with mysterious conditions attached. She must cut off her luxurious hair, wear a certain colour of dress and sit in the window for hours at a time. Then one day she finds a hank of hair in a drawer – hair that looks very like her own. And why is the door to one wing of the house always kept locked…?

the copper beeches

The Mystery of Horne’s Copse by Anthony Berkeley – the more I read of Anthony Berkeley, the more I like him. This is a goodie that I used for a Tuesday ‘Tec post.

An Unlocked Window by Ethel White – again more of a horror story, about two nurses looking after a patient in an isolated house while a maniac murderer is on the loose. This one was adapted as part of the Alfred Hitchcock Presents… series. Check your windows before you go to bed…

Look behind you!!
Look behind you!!

The Horror at Staveley Grange by Sapper – a man dies inexplicably in his bedroom, and a few months later his son comes to the same fate in the same room. Now the remaining son is suspected of murder, but can amateur detective Ronald Standish discover the truth? There is proper detection in this but there are also some really quite shivery spooky bits…

The Well by WW Jacobs – a brilliant horror story from the man who gave the world nightmares with The Monkey’s Paw. I used this story for a Tuesday Terror! post.

the well 3

Weekend at Wapentake by Michael Gilbert – the last story in the collection and a good one to end on. When an old woman dies, a lawyer’s clerk becomes suspicious. He suspects he knows who killed her but has to find out why. And puts his own life in danger in the attempt. A nice, thrilling ending to this one to round the book off.

* * * * *

So, murderers, maniacs and things that go bump in the night! Despite the inclusion of a few that I felt were really pretty poor, most are at least good and some are excellent. And, as always, they give a chance to sample some authors who really deserve wider recognition than they have. I’m not sure reading all of these anthologies so close together does them proper justice, but I do recommend them individually, depending on what setting you prefer to satisfy your murderous impulses…

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Poisoned Pen Press.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 71…

Episode 71

 

There’s been a massive reduction in the TBR this week, due to me finishing several books all at the same time – down 3 to 159! I’m so proud of myself! Now if only I could find time to write all the reviews that are piling up…

Here’s the next batch that should be rising to the top soon…

Fiction

 

belovedNext up for the GAN Quest. I tried this book on audio a couple of years ago but found the narration, by Toni Morrison herself, almost monotone. It was great as a cure for insomnia but that’s not altogether a good thing when you’re listening to it while driving! I’m hoping the print version won’t have the same effect…

The Blurb says Staring unflinchingly into the abyss of slavery, this spellbinding novel transforms history into a story as powerful as Exodus and as intimate as a lullaby.

Sethe was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. Her new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved.

Filled with bitter poetry and suspense as taut as a rope, Beloved is a towering achievement by Nobel Prize laureate Toni Morrison.

 * * * * *

 

the noise of timeCourtesy of Random House Vintage via NetGalley. I have a rather chequered history with Barnes, sometimes thoroughly enjoying him and other times finding him rather cold and occasionally self-indulgent. Hopefully this one will fall into the ‘enjoy’ category…

The Blurb says In May 1937 a man in his early thirties waits by the lift of a Leningrad apartment block. He waits all through the night, expecting to be taken away to the Big House. Any celebrity he has known in the previous decade is no use to him now. And few who are taken to the Big House ever return.

So begins Julian Barnes’s first novel since his Booker-winning The Sense of an Ending. A story about the collision of Art and Power, about human compromise, human cowardice and human courage, it is the work of a true master.

I’m hoping it was the blurb writer’s idea to capitalise ‘Art’ and ‘Power’ and not Barnes’…

* * * * *

Crime

 

green for dangerI’m planning to read one of the ‘oldest’ books on my TBR every month this year, and this is the one that has been languishing there longest – three years now! (Though there are several that have been sitting unread on my Kindle for even longer than that.) So better read it before the pages star to biodegrade…

The Blurb says Set in a military hospital during the blitz, this novel is one of Brand’s most intricately plotted detection puzzles, executed with her characteristic cleverness and gusto. When a patient dies under the anesthetic and later the presiding nurse is murdered, Inspector Cockrill finds himself with six suspects–three doctors and three nurses–and not a discernible motive among them.

I’m hoping it was the blurb writer’s idea to spell ‘anaesthetic’ ‘anesthetic’ and not Brand’s…

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murder at the manorCourtesy of Poisoned Pen Press via NetGalley comes another of the British Library collections of classic crime edited by Martin Edwards. I’ve already been dipping into this one, as you’ll know if you read this week’s Tuesday Terror! post…

The Blurb saysThe English country house is an iconic setting for some of the greatest British crime fiction. This new collection gathers together stories written over a span of about 65 years, during which British society, and life in country houses, was transformed out of all recognition. It includes fascinating and unfamiliar twists on the classic closed circle plot, in which the assorted guests at a country house party become suspects when a crime is committed. In the more sinister tales featured here, a gloomy mansion set in lonely grounds offers an eerie backdrop for dark deeds. Many distinguished writers are represented in this collection, including such great names of the genre as Anthony Berkeley, Nicholas Blake and G.K. Chesterton. Martin Edwards has also unearthed hidden gems and forgotten masterpieces: among them are a fine send-up of the country house murder; a suspenseful tale by the unaccountably neglected Ethel Lina White; and a story by the little-known Scottish writer J.J. Bell.” 

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4 great covers this week, too, aren’t they?

NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads.

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

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Five of the Best!

FIVE 5-STAR READS
DECEMBER

SMILEYS

Each month this year, I’ve been looking back over my reviews of the past five years and picking out my favourite from each year. Cleo from Cleopatra Loves Books came up with this brilliant idea and kindly agreed to let me borrow it. And so now we reach the last month of the year. December is the hardest month for me – I read as much as always, but tend to write very few reviews, leaving them till January. However, I’ve still managed to find five books I highly recommend.

So here are my favourite December reads – click on the covers to go to the full reviews…

 

2011

 

one pair of handsThis is an interesting and entertaining memoir of the period when Monica Dickens (great-granddaughter of Charles of that ilk) decided to work for a time as a cook-housekeeper. As a daughter of a well-off family in the ‘30s, she had no need to work for money but, bored with a life revolving around social events and parties, she signed up with an employment agency and found herself, despite her inexperience and self-confessed inefficiency, in a series of jobs ranging from cooking and cleaning in the flat of a bachelor to being the cook in a large country house.

Living below stairs but with a healthy curiosity about those above stairs too, Dickens gives humorous and mostly affectionate portraits of the various people she meets, and some insight into the life of the domestic servant at the point when they were becoming a dying breed. Although it was written over 70 years ago, it’s still an enjoyable read – Miss Dickens’ wickedly observant eye and lack of deference has allowed it to age gracefully.

 

2012

 

Gravity's Engines‘What I’d like you to take away from Gravity’s Engines is both a sense of the cosmic grandeur we have discovered and a feel for the great scope and ingenuity of human ideas at play.’

So says Caleb Scharf in his introduction to this very accessible account of the current thinking on black holes, how they formed and the effect they have on the universe. This was the book that reignited my interest in popular science after a gap of several years. I was delighted to discover that in the interim science writers had worked out how to write accessibly for the non-scientist, and Scharf is a fine example of this. He doesn’t skimp on the complex ideas, but explains them in a way that meant I was rarely left with the baffled expression I normally wear when reading science. And his boundless enthusiasm for his subject is catching – I was left in awe, not just of the amazing phenomenon of black holes, but of the scientists who have gone so far towards understanding and explaining them.

 

2013

 

we need new namesThis is the story of Darling, a young girl living in a shanty town in Zimbabwe. When we first meet her, she is ten and spends most of her time with her little group of friends. Through them, we get a child’s-eye view of the devastation that has been wrought on the country during the Mugabe period. At the half-way point, Darling is sent to America to live with her aunt in Michigan, and the second half is taken up with seeing the immigrant experience as Darling learns about this society that is so different from anything she has known.

I found Bulawayo’s writing style hugely skilful in giving an authenticity to Darling’s voice throughout and allowing her language to grow and change as she moves through adolescence. Although I had a problem with the tick-list of horrors she takes the reader through, I still found myself moved deeply on several occasions, and in particular by the short chapter at the centre of the book – an interlude between the two sections, where Bulawayo describes the exodus of a generation from her troubled homeland in language so beautiful and evocative it could fairly be described as a prose poem.

 

2014

 

f daniel kehlmannThis is a brilliant novel, sparkling with wit and intelligence. The fact that I have no idea what it’s about really didn’t affect my enjoyment of it in any way. F is for family, or failure, or faith, or fraud, or fear, or fate. Or possibly it isn’t. When unsuccessful author Arthur Friedland takes his three young sons to see a stage hypnotist, he doesn’t expect it to change his life. But a couple of hours later, he lets the boys out of the car and drives off, not to be seen or heard of again for years. The three boys, identical twins Ivan and Eric and their half-brother Martin, are young adults when suddenly Arthur’s new book, My Name is No One, becomes a sensation.

The main part of the book takes place over three lengthy chapters, each told from the viewpoint of one of the brothers and each covering the same short time-frame. During that period an event happens that has ramifications for all three but, although the reader knows what happened, the brothers don’t, and this is partly what gives the book its air of slight farce. The writing is superb – Kehlmann can squeeze a mountain of characterisation into a few telling phrases, allowing him plenty of space to treat us to some fairly tongue-in-cheek philosophical asides. And he forces the reader to collude with him in mocking, but affectionately, the worlds of art, literature and religion.

 

2015

 

the dungeon houseTwenty years ago, in a drunken fit of jealous rage, Malcolm Whiteley shot his wife and killed his daughter before turning the gun on himself. Or did he? DCI Hannah Scarlett’s old boss was never convinced, but could never find evidence to put anyone else in the frame. Now Hannah and her cold case team are re-investigating the disappearance of a teenage girl three years earlier when another girl goes missing – the daughter of Nigel Whiteley, who is now living in his uncle Malcolm’s old house, the Dungeon House, where the tragedy took place. Hannah begins to wonder if the three cases might be linked in some way…

With excellent plotting and a strong sense of its Lake District setting, there is a slight Golden Age feel to this mystery – hardly surprising from someone who is the author and editor of several books on classic crime – but brought bang up to date. I look forward to reading the rest of this series.

 

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If you haven’t already seen Cleo’s selection for December, why not pop on over? Here’s the link…

The Dungeon House by Martin Edwards

the dungeon housePast and present…

😀 😀 😀 😀 🙂

Twenty years ago, in a drunken fit of jealous rage, Malcolm Whiteley shot his wife and killed his daughter before turning the gun on himself. Or did he? DCI Hannah Scarlett’s old boss was never convinced, but could never find evidence to put anyone else in the frame. Now Hannah and her cold case team are re-investigating the disappearance of a teenage girl three years earlier when another girl goes missing – the daughter of Nigel Whiteley, who is now living in his uncle Malcolm’s old house, the Dungeon House, where the tragedy took place. Hannah begins to wonder if the three cases might be linked in some way…

The first section of the book, almost a lengthy prologue, tells of the lead-up to the killings. Malcolm is convinced his wife is having an affair but doesn’t know with whom. He suspects each of their friends in turn and obsessively watches their behaviour to see if he can pick up any signs. The characterisation of this successful and egotistical bully is very well done, and the reader is also introduced to some of the characters, young at the time of the killing, who will re-appear in the present day section.

At this stage, I couldn’t get up much empathy for any of the characters and didn’t really feel invested in their fate. However, when the book jumps to the present, it becomes a very enjoyable read. Hannah is a great character – normal, intelligent, functional. Her interactions with her team are convincing, and I particularly enjoyed the glimpses we got of her relationship with Patrick, the man she is living with. Their dialogue comes over as natural and they are gloriously angst free, both being interested in each other’s work and mutually supportive. Refreshing!

This section, the bulk of the book, is split between Hannah’s perspective and that of Joanne Footit. Joanne had been friends with Malcolm’s daughter and, traumatised after the killings, left the area. But now she’s back and hoping to revive her old relationship with Nigel. The way Joanne’s character is developed is very clever – at first we see her only from her own perspective and then gradually Edwards lets us begin to see her through other people’s eyes. She’s intriguing, and as she meets up with the people she knew years before she seems to be stirring up old memories that many of them would prefer to leave buried.

Edwards creates a good sense of place in the Lake District setting, both in terms of the physical location and of the people who live there. He contrasts the beauty of the scenery with the looming atomic plant at Seascale, using it to help emphasise an atmosphere of growing tension as the story progresses.

Martin Edwards
Martin Edwards

The plotting is excellent on the whole and, though it goes a little over the top at the end, largely remains well within the bounds of possibility. As one might expect from Edwards, the author and editor of several books on classic crime fiction, there are echoes of the Golden Age mysteries, though brought bang up to date. The small town location means there’s a limited cast of suspects and that slightly claustrophobic feeling of everyone knowing too much about their neighbours’ business. There are proper clues and Hannah and her team work their way to the solution through the traditional technique of interviewing people – so much more interesting (to me) than trying to work out how long it takes for blowflies to invade corpses, etc! I didn’t work it out, but when the solution was given I found it credible and satisfying.

Overall, well written and strongly plotted with some excellent characterisation – Hannah is a detective I will enjoy meeting again.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Poisoned Pen Press.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 66…

Episode 66

 

The TBR remains at 151. The good news – it hasn’t gone up. The bad news – it hasn’t gone down! Or maybe that’s the good news…

Here are a few that should make it out of the pile soon. All crime this week and all from NetGalley, in a bid to catch up with my reviewing backlog…

Crime

 

smoke and mirrorsI loved The Zig Zag Girl, the first in Elly Griffiths’ new Stephens and Mephisto series, so I’ve been waiting eagerly for this second one, though my heart sank a little when I saw that we’re back on the bandwagon of murdered children…

The Blurb says Brighton, winter 1951. Pantomime season is in full swing on the pier with Max Mephisto starring in Aladdin, but Max’s headlines have been stolen by the disappearance ­­of two local children. When they are found dead in the snow, surrounded by sweets, it’s not long before the press nickname them ‘Hansel and Gretel’. DI Edgar Stephens has plenty of leads to investigate. The girl, Annie, used to write gruesome plays based on the Grimms’ fairy tales. Does the clue lie in Annie’s unfinished – and rather disturbing – last script? Or might it lie with the eccentric theatricals who have assembled for the pantomime?

Once again Edgar enlists Max’s help in penetrating the shadowy theatrical world that seems to hold the key. But is this all just classic misdirection?”

 * * * * *

first one missingI loved Tammy Cohen’s Dying for Christmas so I was delighted to get a copy of this, though my heart sank a little when I saw that we’re back on the bandwagon of murdered children…!

The Blurb says There are three things no-one can prepare you for when your daughter is murdered:

– You are haunted by her memory day and night

– Your friends and family fear you are going mad

– Only in a group with mothers of other victims can you find real comfort.

Welcome to the club no one wants to join.

* * * * *

the dungeon houseI’ve enjoyed a couple of the books of classic crime stories that Martin Edwards has edited, but this will be the first time I’ve read one of his own novels. And it looks like the youngest victim is 16, so we’re heading in the right direction…

The Blurb says The magnificent Dungeon House and gardens overlook Cumbria’s remote western coast with its mix of beaches, dunes, and fells, Roman ruins, and nuclear plant. Twenty years ago the wealthy Whiteleys called it home. But not a happy one. Malcolm Whiteley had begun to disintegrate under financial and emotional pressures. He suspected various men in their social circle of being his wife’s lover. After a disastrous party for the neighbours, Lysette told Malcolm their marriage was over. Sadly an old Winchester rifle he had been hiding was at hand….
Fast forward to today. Hannah Scarlett’s cold case team is looking into the three-year-old disappearance of Lily Elstone whose father Gray had been Malcolm’s accountant. The investigation coincides with yet another disappearance of a teenage girl: Shona Whiteley, daughter of Malcolm’s nephew Nigel, who now lives in the Dungeon House despite its tragic history. As Hannah’s team digs down into the past, doubts arise about what really happened the night Malcolm killed his wife and 16-year-old daughter Amber, then himself.
Most of the people once close to the Whiteleys still live nearby. And one Joanna Footit, and her secrets, now returns from London. While Hannah leads the complex police inquiries, it is her lover, historian Daniel Kind, who supplies Hannah with the lead that unlocks the whole. Does it come too late?

* * * * *

broken promiseI’ve never read anything by Linwood Barclay – a major omission, I feel. And while there is one dead baby, I’m seriously hoping the other one gets to live!! I’m on tenterhooks!!

The Blurb saysThe morning it all started, newspaper reporter David Harwood had plenty to worry about. A single parent with no job, forced to return with his young son to the small town of Promise Falls to live with his parents, the future wasn’t looking too rosy. So when his mother asked him to look in on his cousin Marla, who was still not quite right after losing her baby, it was almost a relief to put the disaster his own life had become to one side.

The relief wouldn’t last long. When he gets to Marla’s house he’s disturbed to find a smear of blood on the front door. He’s even more disturbed to find Marla nursing a baby, a baby she claims was delivered to her ‘by an angel.’ And when, soon after, a woman’s body is discovered across town, stabbed to death, with her own baby missing, it looks as if Marla has done something truly terrible.

But while the evidence seems overwhelming, David just can’t believe that his cousin is a murderer. In which case, who did kill Rosemary Gaynor? And why did they then take her baby and give it to Marla? With the police convinced they have an open and shut case, it’s up to David to find out what really happened, but he soon discovers that the truth could be even more disturbing…” 

* * * * *

NB All blurbs taken from Goodreads.

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

 

Resorting to Murder: Holiday Mysteries edited by Martin Edwards

resorting to murderTrains and boats and planes…

😀 😀 😀 🙂

Another in the British Library Crime Classics series, this works well as a companion piece to Martin Edward’s other recent anthology, Capital Crimes: London Mysteries. As the title suggests, Resorting to Murder is a collection of classic crime stories set in holiday destinations. While a lot of them are set in and around Britain, several others take us abroad, mainly to Europe with the Swiss mountains featuring more than once (well, a good place to make a murder look like an accident, eh?). In his introduction, Edwards suggests that holiday settings were popular with authors since the novelty of the location allowed them to concentrate a bit less on creating strong plots. The stories are in rough chronological order, as in Capital Crimes, again allowing us to see the progression of the mystery story.

swiss poster

There are a few well known names in here – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot is the first story (a favourite story of mine which I recently mentioned in a review of a different anthology) and GK Chesterton appears with a non-Father Brown story. But there also many whom I didn’t recognise at all or only knew because they had also appeared in Capital Crimes.

Here are a few of the stories that stood out for me…

The Finger of Stone by GK Chesterton – I admit that the Father Brown stories have never appealed much to me, so it was refreshing to read something different from Chesterton. This one centres on the creation versus evolution debate when a scientist who has ‘proved’ that the Biblical timetable can’t be correct disappears. It’s a bit silly, especially the twist ending, but fun and well written.

Holiday Task by Leo Bruce – this is a great example of a howdunit. A newly appointed prison governor is killed when he apparently drives his car off a cliff. But was it murder? And if it was, how was it done? The solution is clever and I kicked myself for not being able to work it out. As Holmes often remarked, it’s all so easy once you know how…

recalculating-1

The Hazel Ice by HC Bailey – I enjoyed Bailey’s contribution in Classic Crimes and liked this one just as much. Reggie Fisher is again the amateur detective, this time in a story involving a man who is missing after an accident in the mountains. Edwards puts Bailey’s decline from the public eye down to his quirky writing style, but I find it entertaining. It’s terribly upper-class 1920/30s style – Fisher doesn’t wear a monocle but one feels he should. A cross between Lord Peter Wimsey and PG Wodehouse, though admittedly not quite as well written as either. But fun.

A Posteriori by Helen Simpson – A short and strictly humorous story centring on the dangers of ladies travelling alone and being forced to make use of… ahem… public conveniences. Made me chuckle.

bloomers

The House of Screams by Gerald Findler – a great little horror/crime story about a man renting a haunted house. Are the screams that he hears in the middle of the night the ghost of a previous tenant? I’d have loved to read more of Findler’s work, but Edwards tells us that he only published one other story.

* * * * *

Martin Edwards
Martin Edwards

In truth, I thought this collection was quite a bit weaker than the London stories. Perhaps it’s the locations – London has always been such a great setting for crime fiction – or perhaps Edwards’ point about plotting is at the root of it, but on the whole I found many of these stories pretty obvious and not overly original or atmospheric, and often without much sense of place despite the interesting locations. There is some crossover of authors between the two collections, but there are also several in this who don’t appear in the other volume, and I felt one or two had been included for their curiosity value more than for the intrinsic quality of the stories. As usual in any collection, though, the quality is variable and there are enough good stories to outweigh the weaker ones overall, meaning this is still an enjoyable read.

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

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.

* * * * *

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

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.

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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.”

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NB All blurbs taken from NetGalley or Goodreads.

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

Tuesday ’Tec! Razor Edge by Anthony Berkeley

resorting to murderElementary, my dear Sheringham…

 

Like last week’s Capital Crimes: London Mysteries, Resorting to Murder is another anthology of crime stories edited by Martin Edwards, published as part of the British Library Crime Classics series, this time with the theme of murders committed during summer holidays. According to the introduction to this story, Anthony Berkeley was pretty well known as one of the crime writers of the Golden Age. Personally I’ve never heard of him, either under that name, which he used when writing whodunits, or as Francis Iles, the name he used for novels about the psychology of crime. Roger Sheringham, the amateur detective in this story, appeared in several other stories, though this one was never published until 1994, and even then in a strictly limited edition. So time to see if it’s a forgotten treasure or just one that should have been left on the shelf, in this week’s…

Tuesday Tec

Razor Edge by Anthony Berkeley

 

Anthony Berkeley
Anthony Berkeley

Here, ladies and gentlemen, are the facts of the case. Your mission is to see if you can find the solution…

Roger Sheringham is spending the weekend with his old friend Major Drake, who just happens to be the Chief Constable of the seaside resort of Penhampton. A man is found drowned – not an uncommon occurrence in a place where the bathing is known to be dangerous. A distraught woman turns up at the police station and tells them that her husband, Edward Hutton, had gone bathing with another man, a fellow holidaymaker, Michael Barton. She subsequently identifies the corpse as her husband. Barton hasn’t been seen since, and all Mrs Hutton can say by way of description is that he had a long moustache. The police are confident it’s a tragic double drowning accident but, as you do when you have guests staying, Major Drake invites Sheringham to accompany him to the mortuary to look at the corpse. (Beats visiting the local museum, I suppose.)

Sheringham has a casual glance or two at the corpse and pretty much solves the whole thing on the spot, though in time-honoured fashion he keeps his conclusions to himself so that the police can show off their stupidity to the full. Here are the things Sheringham notices…

Clues

The man has a recent shaving cut on his lip.
The man’s chin is stubbly as if he hadn’t shaved that morning.
The man has scratches all over his back but none on the rest of his body.

From this, Sheringham deduces it’s a case of murder. Five points and a signed picture of Sheringham to anyone who can at this point tell me whodunit and how it was done. Oh, come on! Sheringham had the answer!

Had the man not been wearing a daring backless bathing suit, the murder may have gone unnoticed...
Had the man not been wearing a daring backless bathing suit, the murder may have gone unnoticed…

No? Oh, well, let’s assume that, like the police, you need a little extra help.

New clues found out in the course of the investigation

Barton owned a blue suit but wasn’t wearing it when he went bathing that day.
The blue suit is no longer in Barton’s tent.
There was a warrant out for the arrest of Hutton for dodgy sharedealing.
Mrs Hutton was seen the next day with a man in a blue suit.

Still not solved it? I guess you’ll just have to read the story then.

Oh, how did I do? Well, I admit I’d sussed out the whodunit from roughly page 2, and I worked out the why when the new clues came along. As to the how, well, I got about two-thirds of that bit, and frankly the other third was silly…

oh we do like...

Despite the fact that I’m making fun of it, the story isn’t too bad really, but neither is it particularly good. Because I haven’t read any of the other Sheringham stories I can’t say how it compares, but I found the writing pretty good and the characterisation pretty stereotyped. Sheringham himself is not so much a Holmesian incisive reasoner as an annoyingly smug, psychic know-it-all, and that’s just as well because the intellectually challenged police desperately needed help. While I like stories that give the reader the clues needed to work out the solution, they really have to be hidden a little better than they are in this one. I’m not sure it would encourage me to seek out more of Berkeley’s stories, but it whiled away a quarter of an hour pleasantly enough.

 

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Little Grey Cells rating: ❓ ❓ ❓ ❓

Overall story rating:      😀 😀 🙂

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…

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Little Grey Cells rating: ❓ ❓ ❓

Overall story rating:      😀 😀 😀 😀