Tuesday ‘Tec! Bodies from the Library 3 edited by Tony Medawar

Mixed bag…

🙂 🙂 🙂

As with the previous books in the series, this is a collection of stories that have rarely or never been included in a collection before. There are twelve stories, plus a fun collection of very short shorts where several writers were challenged to come up with a story all using the same object – an orange. There’s the usual mix of well known authors like Dorothy L Sayers, Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh, alongside some that have recently come back to prominence during the current revival, like Christopher St John Sprigg and Josephine Bell, and a few from authors entirely unfamiliar to me.

The problem with these “never before collected” collections is that there is bound to be a finite number of great stories that fall into that category. I read and loved the second book in the series, and was surprised at the high quality of the stories in it. I’m afraid this one feels rather like the leftovers – the ones that weren’t good enough to be included in the earlier books. Only one achieved a five-star rating from me – The Hampstead Murder by Christopher Bush, which I highlighted in a previous Tuesday ‘Tec! post. A handful got four stars, but I found the rest disappointing and not really worth the bother of collecting. I feel the series has probably run its course, in this format at least.

Here’s a flavour of a few of the better stories:

The Incident of the Dog’s Ball by Agatha Christie – although this story was only discovered many years after Christie’s death, it has certainly been collected before since I had already read it! A woman writes to Poirot for advice, but the letter doesn’t arrive till some months later. Poirot discovers the woman died just after she had written the letter, a death put down to accident. But the letter makes Poirot think that there may have been a darker cause, so he sets out to investigate. This story forms the nucleus of the plot of what would become the novel, Dumb Witness.

The Case of the Unlucky Airman by Christopher St John Sprigg – it’s sad that Sprigg died so young, since the little I’ve read of his stuff suggests he had a lot of talent. This one involves an airman who lands to get an oil leak fixed. He taxies into an empty hangar, there is the sound of a shot and he is found dead. An intriguing take on a “locked room” mystery – well told and quite fun.

The Riddle of the Black Spade by Stuart Palmer – a man is killed on a golf course, apparently by a ball with a black spade trademark. At first, his son is suspected, until it turns out the ball was one of the victim’s own. The police captain investigating the death is “assisted” by a spinster lady, Hildegard Withers, who apparently was the star of a series of novels and stories, and popular in her day. This story is light-hearted and entertaining, with some surprises and a clearly explained howdunit solution.

Grand Guignol by John Dickson Carr – written while he was at University, this story formed the basis of his early novel It Walks By Night. I felt a bit smug about that, since in my review of It Walks By Night, I mentioned that the book made me think of the traditions of Grand Guignol! The basic plot and solution are the same but it’s done differently, and the dénouement here is all a bit silly and unbelievable. But it’s an interesting look at the beginnings of the style he would later develop into the decadent horror feel of the Bencolin novels.

So a few enjoyable stories, though often as much for seeing how these famous authors started out than as polished articles in their own right. I’m sure real vintage crime fans will find enough of interest to make reading the collection worthwhile, as I did, but for newcomers or more casual fans I’d recommend the earlier book, Bodies from the Library 2, as a more entertaining collection overall. I haven’t mentioned the first book in the series because I haven’t yet read it.

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

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 258…

Episode 258

A tiny drop in the TBR this week – down 1 to 197. Not the most impressive achievement, but baby steps, baby steps…

(I know, I’ve used that one before, but it’s too good to only use once!)

Here are a few more that will be slipping off soon…

Classic Reviewalong

Tender is the Night by F Scott Fitzgerald

One for the Classics Club. When this one came up on a recent People’s Choice poll it lost, but Alyson suggested we read it anyway and co-ordinate our reviews and comments on 26th October, and a few other people decided that sounded like fun. So a reminder to Alyson, Christine and Eva if you’re still interested, and an invitation to anyone else who fancies joining in. (Sadly, Sandra has had to pull out of this one.) I have read this before but so long ago I remember very little about it except that it didn’t blow me away to the same extent as The Great Gatsby

The Blurb says: Between the First World War and the Wall Street Crash the French Riviera was the stylish place for wealthy Americans to visit. Among the most fashionable are the Divers, Dick and Nicole who hold court at their villa. Into their circle comes Rosemary Hoyt, a film star, who is instantly attracted to them, but understands little of the dark secrets and hidden corruption that hold them together. As Dick draws closer to Rosemary, he fractures the delicate structure of his marriage and sets both Nicole and himself on to a dangerous path where only the strongest can survive. In this exquisite, lyrical novel, Fitzgerald has poured much of the essence of his own life; he has also depicted the age of materialism, shattered idealism and broken dreams.

* * * * *

Horror

Green Tea and Other Weird Stories by Sheridan Le Fanu

I have been the lucky recipient of a ton of anthologies and collections this year to feed my Tuesday Terror!, Transwarp Tuesday!, and even my long neglected Tuesday ‘Tec! short story slots. Here’s the first, courtesy of Oxford World’s Classics – a new collection just in time for spooky season. The porpy is thrilled! 

The Blurb says: Sheridan Le Fanu is one of the indispensable figures in the history of Gothic and horror fiction-the most important such writer in English, certainly, between Poe and M. R. James. While a number of his sensation and mystery novels were popular with mid-Victorian readers, it was in shorter forms that he truly excelled, and most showed himself an innovator in the field of uncanny fiction. Tales such as ‘Carmilla’ and ‘Green Tea’ prompted M. R. James to remark, ‘he succeeds in inspiring a mysterious terror better than any other writer’.

This landmark critical edition includes the original versions of all five stories later collected in the superb In a Glass Darkly, along with seven equally chilling tales spanning the length of Le Fanu’s career, from ‘Schalken the Painter‘, a pioneering story of the walking dead, to ‘Laura Silver Bell’, a haunting exploration of the dark side of fairy lore.

Aaron Worth’s introduction discusses the paranoid, claustrophobic world of Le Fanu’s fiction as a counterpoint-one in its own way equally modern-to the cosmic horror tale as practiced by such writers as H. P. Lovecraft.

* * * * *

Detectives

Bodies from the Library 3 edited by Tony Medawar

Courtesy of HarperCollins. I loved Bodies from the Library 2 so have high hopes for this anthology…

The Blurb says: This new volume in the Bodies from the Library series features the work of 18 prolific authors who, like Christie and Crofts, saw their popularity soar during the Golden Age. Aside from novels, they all wrote short fiction – stories, serials and plays – and although most of them have been collected in books over the last 100 years, here are the ones that got away…

In this book you will encounter classic series detectives including Colonel Gore, Roger Sheringham, Hildegarde Withers and Henri Bencolin; Hercule Poirot solves ‘The Incident of the Dog’s Ball’; Roderick Alleyn returns to New Zealand in a recently discovered television drama by Ngaio Marsh; and Dorothy L. Sayers’ chilling ‘The House of the Poplars’ is published for the first time.

With a full-length novella by John Dickson Carr and an unpublished radio script by Cyril Hare, this diverse collection concludes with some early ‘flash fiction’ commissioned by Collins’ Crime Club in 1938. Each mini story had to feature an orange, resulting in six very different tales from Peter Cheyney, Ethel Lina White, David Hume, Nicholas Blake, John Rhode and – in his only foray into writing detective fiction – the publisher himself, William Collins.

* * * * *

Science Fiction

Born of the Sun edited by Mike Ashley

The British Library has been super generous with sci-fi and horror anthologies, so I’m looking forward to sharing the others with you soon. This is the first on my list, and I love the idea of travelling the solar system in this way…

The Blurb says: An original concept featuring a Golden Age science fiction for every planet in the Solar System, Born of the Sun includes never-before-republished material from the British Library collection – effectively exclusive by their rarity. This is the 7th of our weighty Science Fiction Classics anthologies, a set which wonderfully embodies the Golden Age of the genre.

Terror in the steamy jungles of Venus, encounters on the arid expanse of Jupiter; asteroids mysteriously bursting with vegetation whizz past and reveal worlds beyond imagination orbiting the giver of all known life – the Sun. Mike Ashley curates this literary tour through the space around this heavenly body, taking in the sights of Mercury, Venus, Mars, an alternate Earth, strange goings on on Saturn and tales from a bizarre civilization on Neptune. Pluto (still a planet in the Classic period of Science fiction) becomes the site for a desperate tale of isolation, and a nameless point at the limits of the Sun’s orbital space gives rise to a final poetic vision of this spot in the universe we call home…

Born of the Sun collects one story for each of the planets thought to be in our solar system during the Golden Age of Science fiction, from some of the greatest, and from some of the most obscure, authors of the genre. Featuring the genius works of Larry Niven, Poul Andersen, Clifford D Simak, Clare Winger Harris and many more.

* * * * *

NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

* * * * *

So…what do you think? Are you tempted?

Bodies from the Library 2 edited by Tony Medawar

A case of the finest vintage…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

I’ve read lots of collections of vintage short mystery stories over the last few years, as publishers have responded to what seems to be a growing appetite for the style of the Golden Age authors. I’m always struck by how many of the major novelists of the period excelled in this format too, while it would appear that there were many other authors who more or less specialised in short stories. This collection of fifteen stories includes some of the biggest names of all, like Sayers and Christie, some of the authors who are currently being resurrected for a modern audience, like ECR Lorac and John Rhode, and some whose names were unfamiliar to me, though they’re probably well known to real vintage crime aficionados, like Helen Simpson or C.A. Alington.

Described as ‘forgotten’, the stories are previously uncollected and in several cases unpublished, so even those who have read quite widely in this genre will find some real treats here. There are two novellas – a previously unpublished one from Edmund Crispin starring Gervase Fen, and one from a writing duo I hadn’t come across before, who styled themselves Q. Patrick. Dorothy L. Sayers fans will be thrilled by the inclusion of a never-before-published Lord Peter Wimsey story, and Margery Allingham fans will enjoy her script for a radio play. Tony Medawar provides brief but informative literary bios of each of the authors, which throw up some interesting factlets, such as that “Peter Antony” was actually an alias used by the famous play- and screen-writing brothers, Peter and Anthony Shaffer.

This is one of the best mixed anthologies I’ve come across. There is the usual variation in quality, of course, but I gave 11 of the stories either four or five stars and found only a couple of them disappointing. And the five which got the full five stars are all great – they alone make the book a real treat. Here’s a flavour of them:

No Face by Christianna Brand – A psychic claims to be receiving messages from a bloody serial killer, known only as No Face. Is the psychic a fake? But if so, how does he seem to know where the murderer will strike next? This is excellent – it has a real atmosphere of creepy dread that is as much horror as crime, The characterisation of the psychic is very well done and there’s a delicious twist in the tail.

Exit Before Midnight by Q. Patrick – A group of eight people are trapped on the fortieth floor of an office building on New Year’s Eve as a murderer picks them off one by one. Carol is the central character and to add to her woes two of the men are vying for her attention. But could one of them be the murderer? Oh, and did I forget to mention? The lights have fused and they only have a limited supply of matches…This is novella length, with great plotting and real tension, while Carol’s dilemma adds a light element of romance to lift the tone. Loved it, and will be hoping to find more from this duo.

Room to Let by Margery Allingham – This is a radio script, so is given to us purely as dialogue with a few stage directions. It’s a first-class mash-up of a The Lodger-type story and a locked room mystery. Following a fire at a private asylum, a mysterious stranger rents a room from Mrs Musgrave, a crippled lady in a wheelchair. The stranger gradually gains control over her, her daughter, Molly, and their faithful maid, Alice. But… could he possibly be Jack the Ripper?? It culminates with a corpse in a locked room. The framing device is of the story being told years later at a dinner of detectives, whose spirit of competitiveness to solve the mystery gives a humorous edge to the start and end. Well plotted and highly entertaining.

The Adventure of the Dorset Squire by C.A. Alington – This short short story is a sort of country house farce and very funny. There’s no real crime but lots of screaming and confusion – great fun!

The Locked Room by Dorothy L. Sayers – Previously unpublished, it dates to the period before Harriet Vane began to infest the Lord Peter Wimsey books, allowing Peter the freedom for a nice bit of flirtation with a fellow guest at a country house party, Betty Carlyle. When the host apparently kills himself, Betty is unconvinced – she suspects the host’s wife murdered him. This becomes a problem some months later, when the wife decides to marry Betty’s cousin. So she appeals to Lord Peter to uncover the truth. Well plotted, the writing is up to her usual high standard, and the flirtation gives it a lot of fun. Yes, even although I’m normally an un-fan of Sayers, this one got under my guard!

If you’re already a vintage crime fan, then this is one to grab; and if you’re new to the genre, then you’ll find this a very enjoyable way to introduce yourself to some of the greats. Highly recommended!

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

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

TBR Thursday 207…

Episode 207

I’ve been reading up a storm this last week, but the books have continued to arrive in droves meaning that the TBR has only gone down by 1 – to 226. Still, at least that means I’m going in the right direction, eh?

Here are a few more I should be reading soon. In fact, I’ve started a couple of them. Well, in actual fact, I’ve also finished one of them – Sanditon. Must try to synch these posts better…

Fiction

The Pearl by John Steinbeck

Next up for my 5 x 5 Challenge, to read 5 books from 5 selected authors. I’m ambivalent about Steinbeck – I think he writes like a dream but I find him emotionally manipulative and with a tendency to cross the line between pathos and bathos. I gave 5 stars to The Grapes of Wrath and abandoned Cannery Row. So this one could go either way…

The Blurb says: Like his father and grandfather before him, Kino is a poor diver, gathering pearls from the gulf beds that once brought great wealth to the Kings of Spain and now provide Kino, Juana, and their infant son with meager subsistence. Then, on a day like any other, Kino emerges from the sea with a pearl as large as a sea gull’s egg, as “perfect as the moon.” With the pearl comes hope, the promise of comfort and of security….

A story of classic simplicity, based on a Mexican folk tale, The Pearl explores the secrets of man’s nature, the darkest depths of evil, and the luminous possibilities of love.

* * * * *

Classics

Sanditon by Jane Austen

Courtesy of Oxford World’s Classics. Despite my love affair with Jane Austen, I’ve never read her unfinished novel, Sanditon, so when I saw OWC were publishing a new edition I couldn’t resist. Apparently there’s going to be a new TV adaptation next year, and I always prefer to have read the book first…

The Blurb says: In Sanditon, Jane Austen writes what may well be the first seaside novel: a novel, that is, that explores the mysterious and startling transformations that a stay by the sea can work on individuals and relationships. Sanditon is a fictitious place on England’s south coast and the obsession of local landowner Mr Thomas Parker. He means to transform this humble fishing village into a fashionable health resort to rival its famous neighbours of Brighton and Eastbourne.

The seaside holiday was invented in the eighteenth century, with resorts springing up along England’s extensive coastline to take advantage of the craze for salt-water bathing. For Jane Austen, a keen bather, the seaside was a place where the female body might enjoy unusual permitted freedom. In Persuasion, the novel she finished only months before she began Sanditon, the sea and coast elicit rare moments of sensuous delight. In this her final, unfinished work, the dying writer sets aside her familiar subject matter, the country village with its settled community, for the transient and eccentric assortment of people who drift to the new resort, the town built upon sand. If the ground beneath her characters’ feet appears less secure, Austen’s own vision is opening out. Light and funny, Sanditon is her most experimental and poignant work.

* * * * *

Vintage Crime Shorts

Bodies from the Library 2 edited by Tony Medawar

Courtesy of HarperCollins. This one popped unexpectedly through my letterbox a couple of weeks ago. It sounds great, and so me, with lots of my favourite Golden Age authors included and loads more for me to meet for the first time…

The Blurb says: This second volume is a showcase for popular figures of the Golden Age, in stories that even their most ardent fans will not be aware of. It includes uncollected and unpublished stories by acclaimed queens and kings of crime fiction, from Helen Simpson, Ethel Lina White, E.C.R. Lorac, Christianna Brand, Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers, to S.S. Van Dine, Jonathan Latimer, Clayton Rawson, Cyril Alington and Antony and Peter Shaffer (writing as Peter Antony).

This book also features two highly readable radio scripts by Margery Allingham (involving Jack the Ripper) and John Rhode, plus two full-length novellas – one from a rare magazine by Q Patrick, the other an unpublished Gervase Fen mystery by Edmund Crispin, written at the height of his career. It concludes with another remarkable discovery: ‘The Locked Room’ by Dorothy L. Sayers, a never-before-published case for Lord Peter Wimsey!

Selected and introduced by Tony Medawar, who also provides fascinating pen portraits of each author, Bodies in the Library 2 is an indispensable collection for any bookshelf.

* * * * *

New Fiction

Night for Day by Patrick Flanery

Courtesy of Atlantic Books. Patrick Flanery is right at the top of my list of favourite contemporary authors, writing fiction with strong political themes mixed with a deep understanding of humanity. He’s won my Book of the Year Award twice, for Absolution and Fallen Land, (which I think is a Great American Novel). So this has to be in the running for my most anticipated read of the year…

The Blurb says: Los Angeles, 1950. Over the course of a single day, two friends grapple with the moral and professional uncertainties of the escalating Communist witch-hunt in Hollywood. Director John Marsh races to convince his actress wife not to turn informant for the House Committee on Un-American Activities, while leftist screenwriter Desmond Frank confronts the possibility of exile to live and work without fear of being blacklisted. As Marsh and Frank struggle to complete shooting on their film She Turned Away, which updates the myth of Orpheus to the gritty noir underworld of post-war Los Angeles, the chaos of their private lives pushes them towards a climactic confrontation with complicity, jealousy, and fear.

Night for Day conjures a feverish vision of one of the country’s most notorious periods of national crisis, illuminating the eternal dilemma of both art and politics: how to make the world anew. At once a definitively American novel, echoing Philip Roth and Raymond Chandler, it also nods to the mythic landscapes of Dante and the iconoclastic playfulness of James Joyce. With as much to say about the early years of the Cold War as about the political and social divisions that continue to divide the country today, Night for Day is expansive in scope and yet tenderly intimate, exploring the subtleties of belonging and the enormity of exile—not only from one’s country but also from one’s self.

* * * * *

NB All blurbs and covers taken from Goodreads or Amazon UK.

* * * * *

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