Death of a Busybody (1942) by George Bellairs

Source: Review Copy (British Library Crime Classics)


I first heard of this writer through Curtis Evans’ blog, The Passing Tramp, so I was keen to sample some of Bellairs’ work, some of which the British Library has reprinted. Aside from Death of a Busybody (1942), the British Library are also reprinting The Dead Shall be Raised and Murder of a Quack later this year. George Bellairs was the pseudonym of Harold Blundell, (1902 – 1982) who wrote only as a hobby, otherwise working as a banker. In Martin Edwards’ excellent introduction he reveals that Bellairs, who acted as an air raid warden during WW2, (exempt from military service due to blindness in one eye,) often wrote during blackouts to pass the time. Despite writing only being a hobby, Blundell wrote 62 novels, 58 under the name of Bellairs and the remaining four under the name of Hilary Landon.

The setup of Death of a Busybody will be familiar to any fan of golden age detective fiction, with the action predominantly taking place in and around the village, Hilary Magna. The victim is indeed a busybody, by the name of Ethel Tither, whose quest to root out and remedy sin and transgressions in others, made her as popular as the plague. For Inspector Littlejohn who is called in from Scotland Yard, this is a case with too many suspects, rather than too few. Suspects range from the agnostic Mr Haxley, who resisted Tither’s urges to convert, many young swains aggrieved by her tendency to broadcast their dalliances with the fairer sex, to married couples up in umbrage at her interference and there is even a cousin who was going to be cut out of her will. Her mode of dying is a memorable one to say the least, having been knocked unconscious before being dumped inside Reverend Claplady’s cesspool, which his handyman had been emptying. Not a way anyone would want to go.

I enjoyed Bellairs gently humorous style, which comes across through some of his key characters and their relationships with others. This style begins from the very first page with Reverend Claplady doing his breathing exercises, only to have them ruined by his handyman beginning the work on emptying his cesspool. I think another humour highlight is the interview Littlejohn conducts with Tither’s maid and her fiancée, the latter of which being a member of the Emmanuel Witnesses and has a tendency to interject whenever possible with a psalm-like phrase. The solution to the mystery really comes together in the final third of the story when key pieces of information are unveiled to the Inspector and the reader, though not without a few dramatic incidents along the way. Although set during WW2 the war does not intrude upon the action very much, only really being mentioned in relation to certain characters who have been called up, the introduction of land girls to the area and the fact petrol shortages have led to one taxi driver resuming his horse driven cab.

Religion provides a subtle yet interesting backdrop to the story, as a number of Christian sects come up in the story. Aside from some characters being Emmanuel Witnesses, there are also Calvinists and Tither’s cousin is a missionary. Martin Edwards in his introduction astutely notes that ‘time and again in […Bellairs’] work, he makes clear that he detests sanctimony, hypocrisy and greed, although he makes his points with a light touch.’ This is something which definitely comes through in the story and in regards to religion in this story, you can see that Bellairs is unsupportive of theological hair splitting and the hypocrisy of professed believers, trying to take the speck out their neighbour’s eye but not notice the log in their own. I think it can also be said that Bellairs tries to update the village mystery setting, which is evident in the characters he includes and their individual difficulties and situations. Although a concise writer I think he does create characters with verisimilitude, hinting at the complexity of their relationships. The police investigation is interestingly written, with a well-constructed solution, which is dispelled by degrees and I liked how a crucial alibi was contrived. All in all I’d certainly recommend readers give this mystery a go and I look forward to the next British Library reprint.

Rating: 4.25/5

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Five Little Pigs (1942) by Agatha Christie

Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item: Art Equipment

Five Little Pigs (1942) is one of my all-time favourite Christie novels, involving a retrospective case of murder. I love how character personalities are paramount and the way Poirot builds up the solution piece by piece. The story begins with Carla Lemarchant visiting Poirot, wanting him to investigate Amyas Crale’s, her father’s murder. The only thing is, is that it happened 16 years ago and that her mother, who died in prison, was convicted for the crime, having believed to have committed the murder in revenge for Amyas’ supposed plans to leave her for the woman he was currently painting, Elsa Greer. Carla who wants to marry is keen to know the truth and a letter she was given on her 21st birthday, written by her mother all those years ago, seems to suggest that the truth hasn’t yet been found. Poirot returns to the principal characters involved in the case, honing in on the five main people who were in and around the Crale household at the time.


One of the things which I love about this book is how much depth Christie gives her characters. Stock characters such as the unfaithful spouse, the cheated on wife, the other woman are all in this book, yet they all rise above their expected stereotypes and in their complexity Christie reveals how hard it can be to correctly read another person. This is especially borne out in how characters retrospectively perceive Caroline, with each person looking at her in a slightly or greatly different light, depending on their own personal biases. I enjoyed evaluating the evidence characters gave about Caroline, as the testimonies given are a mixture of truth, lies and assumptions, the latter often very distorting of what happened.


A character which had a surprising amount of depth was Elsa Greer. Early on in the story she is summed up as ‘very good-looking, hardboiled, modern’ and ‘to the women in the court she stood for a type – type of the home-breaker…’ Yet to Christie’s credit she becomes much more than this. I’m not saying she becomes likeable but she evolves into a more developed character. Poirot quickly deduces that there is an element of the ‘hero worshipper’ in her, which has hugely influenced the men she has married. Furthermore, I think the text subtly suggests that this ‘seeking for… [a] life-sized hero’ has not left her happy. It has left her disappointed and empty, having done nothing with her life and her marital choices not compensating for this. In a way she is a contrast to Caroline’s younger sister, Angela Warren, who makes something of her life by becoming an explorer. Throughout the story light and dark, strength and weakness is attached to Elsa, which is best encapsulated in the phrase ‘a predatory Juliet.’ Moreover it is often stressed how young she was when this all happened and more than once Christie mentions the vulnerability and ruthlessness of youth. The ending of the novel which has always had a huge impact for me continues this ambiguity, there is no sympathy but there is pity that Elsa has in some ways not grown or developed from the time Amyas died.



One of the things I noticed during this reread is how interchangeable Elsa and Caroline are. You could almost postulate that Elsa is Caroline’s alter ego to an extent, such is the duality. Like many an alter ego pairing, (see The Strange Case of Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde (1886) and The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890)), Caroline is arguably killed due to Elsa, the real murderer, as her killing of Amyas leads to Caroline’s own demise. Another literary alter ego pairing can be found in Jane Eyre (1847), where some have argued that Bertha Mason represents Jane’s uncontrollable and volatile side, which Jane ultimately rejects. It is possible to pose a similar reading here in as much that whilst Caroline has learnt to control her anger and ensure it doesn’t erupt into physical violence again, Elsa has not and within minutes of hearing that Amyas was not going to marry her she plots his death.


What principally led me to thinking there was a duality between Elsa and Caroline was the number of statements said about Caroline which could also be applicable to Elsa. At the beginning of the book both women are said to be ‘hardboiled’ and a criticism levelled at both of them is lack of self-control. Furthermore, Philip Blake, a childhood friend of Amyas, sums Caroline up as ‘cruel and malignant and a grabber’ and it is the last adjective which caught my attention most. It is used in reference to how Caroline married Amyas, with Blake arguing that Caroline married him due to predicting he would become successful, famous and well off. Whether this is true or not, looking at Elsa’s string of marriages the term ‘grabber’ definitely fits, with Elsa having sought after wealthy, important, titled and talented men.

Moreover, their duality also resides in their passion for Amyas as Caroline is said to be ‘the possessive type of woman. Unable to accept facts,’ in that she couldn’t accept Amyas leaving her. Yet in reality when Elsa is revealed as the true killer this statement could equally apply to her. I wouldn’t say Caroline suffers from hero worship in the way Elsa does with Amyas, but I do think she is completely devoted to him to the extent that when she has been convicted she writes to her sister ‘I couldn’t have lived without him,’ regardless of his philandering. The duality is also reinforced by Elsa herself as whilst trying to conceal her own guilt, she imposes her own motivations and emotions behind the killing onto Caroline. The line which best captures this is when Elsa says ‘I think she was quite prepared to kill him rather than to let him go – completely and finally to another woman.’ A statement which I think speaks volumes about Elsa and Caroline equally.



It is suffice to say that both Elsa and Caroline loved Amyas and I think it is through this complete devotion that Christie blurs the lines between death and life. Amyas in a way gave both these women their centre, their purpose and it is shown quite clearly that his death led to their deaths in one way or another. For instance with Caroline even before she died literally in prison, people who remember her from the trial said that ‘And yet, half the time, she wasn’t there. She’d gone away somewhere, quite far away – just left her body there, quiescent, attentive, with a little polite smile on her lips.’ Conversely, whilst Elsa did not die literally the novel emphasises how a part of her did, ‘the living, ardent, joyous Elsa died also,’ leaving ‘only a vindictive, cold, hard women.’ Elsa’s own words support this notion of a living death when she tells Poirot that Amyas’ death ‘killed me. Ever since there’s been nothing – nothing at all. Emptiness! Like a stuffed fish in a glass case.’ The allusion to Shakespeare’s Juliet also makes this an interesting notion as we know Juliet’s devotion led to her death, yet here the story is postulating what ‘Juliet a survivor’ would have been like, only to suggest such a person would not be the same; ‘Was it not an essential part of Juliet’s makeup that she should die young’. I think both Caroline and Elsa could be accused of loving too much, to the extent that it impacts their other relationships and I do wonder whether Christie is suggesting through these characters the dangers of total love and of attaching yourself so completely to one other person that you cannot stand alone.


The ‘problem of personality’ is one of the key aspects which make this a great read for me and I love seeing how the characters misread each other, which leads to erroneous assumptions and even a miscarriage of justice. Often this misreading comes about because the characters impose themselves into the others’ situation and then make assumptions from that. What I also love about this book is how it shows that a murder creates more than one victim, having a profound and often negative effect on the survivors. I think one of the things which holds my attention with this book is the duality of the evidence, as often the characters think it means one thing, whilst it means the opposite and I also like how Poirot’s own cryptic remarks hold a dual meaning. For example, he says ‘Until you know exactly what sort of person the victim was you cannot begin to see the circumstances of a crime clearly.’ The obvious victim to understand is Amyas of course but I think the story suggests there are other victims in the tragedy who need to be understood for it to be solved, not least Caroline. A stray comment which arrested my attention was when one of the characters says ‘with women, love always comes first… men, and especially artists – are different.’ Whilst Christie’s work upholds the single track focus artists have when pursuing their creations, with Henrietta Savernake from The Hollow (1946) providing an interesting parallel with Amyas, I don’t think her oeuvre entirely maintains this depiction of male priorities, as evinced by The Murder at the Vicarage (1930), Death on the Nile (1937) and Murder in Mesopotamia (1936) – the latter particularly showing the consequences of a possessive love. As with Cards on the Table (1936), Christie effectively uses a small cast of characters in a story which really focuses on suspect/witness testimony. The solution I thought was cleverly constructed, not using the clichéd foot prints or cigarette ash, but with verbal clues and an astute insight into human character. It is also a very poignant and powerful solution, which avoids conventional resolution and the killer in this book is probably one of Christie’s coldest. For those who believe Christie didn’t write fully realised characters you need to read this book.

Rating: 5/5

Other Blog Reviews:

Puzzle Doctor at In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel

Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise

Moira at Clothes in Books

Martin Edwards at Do You Write Under Your Own Name?

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Tuesday Night Bloggers: Crime in Costume – Week 3

crime-in-costumeThis month the Tuesday Night Bloggers (an eclectic bunch of bloggers with a small addiction to mystery fiction) are looking at costumes and disguises in crime and mystery fiction. So far this month we have had a wide variety of posts with bloggers turning their attention to costumes and disguises in films and comic books, as well as in mystery fiction old and new. This week’s posts are no different containing a diverse range of topics.

Here are this week’s posts:

Bev at My Reader’s Block: Tuesday Night Bloggers: Death Wears A Mask

Brad at Ah Sweet Mystery Blog: The Cape and Cowl: The Ultimate Costumed Detective

JJ at The Invisible Event: The Tuesday Night Bloggers – A Plague of Flaming Phantoms

Moira at Clothes in Books: Tuesday Night Club: Harlequins and Columbines

Rich at Past Offences: Maurice Leblanc: Arsène Lupin Gentlemen Burglar

If you have missed any from previous weeks you can find them here:

Week 1

Week 2

My post this week is a trip down memory lane to a book of my childhood, The Usborne Detective’s Handbook, a book which takes children through the elementary aspects of being a detective and how criminals operate. It is therefore not surprisingly that there are sections devoted to detectives and criminals in disguise. Below are some suggestions for wannabe-sleuths on how to overhear criminals discussing their criminal plots:



Aside from a having a quiet snicker at these pictures, which strive to make the detective inconspicuous yet seem to do the opposite – especially in the picture entitled ‘The Lurker,’ I got to thinking about examples of fictional sleuths adopting disguises to listen in on a criminal’s plans. And it was at this point that I got a little stuck, as the only fictional moment I could think of was when the victim of Patricia Wentworth’s The Listening Eye (1955) gets killed because she has lip read a conversation held by two criminals. I also remembered the film 23 Paces to Baker Street, where the blind protagonist overhears two people discussing an up and coming sinister plot. Even after a little googling later I only found one rather obscure example where an amateur sleuth named Captain Redwood overhears two thieves who are disagreeing over their spoils in Dick Donovan’s Jim Penman: The Life Story of One of the Most Astounding Criminals that Have Ever Lived (1910). My googling skills may not be up to much, that could be one reason why I haven’t come up with more examples. But I think another reason is, is that the detectives we know and love often don’t plan to overhear criminal plots and deliberations and when they do hear incriminating phrases it can as often be from characters who are innocent of the murder, than from the murderer themselves. Appointment with Death (1938) springs to mind in this case.

The Usborne Detective’s Handbook also gives the reader a number of tasks to use the skills talked about in the book. One in particular requires you to see through a criminal’s series of disguises, a task I was not good at then or now, whilst another asks you to detect the real person out of a group of imposters. Consequently to conclude this week’s post I thought I would share these tasks with you to see if you can do better than I did (which is probably not that hard to do).

Seeing Through Disguises

‘Sidney Lurchpast, a well-known criminal, was able to escape detection for any years by using fake identities and clever disguises. Could you have spotted him?

Picture of Lurchpast


Below are pictures taken by detectives while on his trail. Some are Lurchpast in disguise. Some are innocent people. To work out which is which, think carefully about what can be disguised and what cannot.’

Which of these are really Sidney Lurchpast?


Spot the Imposter


‘Here is a photograph of Roderick Roehart, taken just before he set out to explore Brazil. Soon after, his expedition was reported lost. Years later, when his uncle died, all three below claimed the Roehart fortune. Which could be Roderick Roehart?


Answers will be posted up later this week.

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Cork on the Water (1951) by Macdonald Hastings

Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item: Fishing Gear

A 1990s reprint by Greycliff Publishing

A 1990s reprint by Greycliff Publishing

Macdonald Hastings, the penname of journalist and war correspondent, Douglas Edward Macdonald (1909-1982), is an author who was new to me and it was also a fairly new experience to read a mystery centred round a protagonist who ensures insurance claims are genuine. Hastings wrote around 30 books, some of which were mystery novels featuring his series’ sleuth Montague Cork, who is the general manager of the Anchor Accident Insurance Company. Although written in the 1950s I think this story has a strong Golden Age period flavour in its opening chapter, which include a map, though the remainder of the novel is within the thriller branch of the genre, being more in keeping with the tone and atmosphere of Francis Durbridge’s work than with other mystery novels set in the fishing milieu such as Ngaio Marsh’s Scales of Justice (1955) and Harriet Rutland’s Bleeding Hooks (1940), both of which are decidedly more detection focused.

The novel opens well with Colonel Johnson having a sinister surprise during his annual fishing trip to Sutherland in the Scottish Highlands. Whilst trying to land the fish of a lifetime, he instead hooks a week old corpse, which is later identified as Gabriel Daggers, an eccentric and not entirely pleasant man who often fished alone and was supposed to have gone away with some friends for a few days. Accidental drowning is the presumed cause of death and that is what it would have remained if it hadn’t of been for the life insurance policy Daggers took out 5 months previously. A number of features surrounding the death prick Montague Cork’s interest, whose company has the policy. Daggers was a healthy young adult and ex commando, as well as an experienced angler – is it likely he would have died this way? Cork is also intrigued by the fact that Dagger has no close relations and chooses to leave the £25,000 insurance claim money to a prima ballerina, Anne Pryde, if she does not marry within the next three years and a further interview with her confirms for Cork his suspicions surrounding Dagger’s supposed death.

Pryde’s relationship with Dagger is tantalising in what we know and don’t know about it. Is she his accomplice or is she one of his victims? Their history is intriguing in what it reveals about her and Dagger, who draws her to him by doggedly following her from performance to performance over the continent. The narrative’s action then moves to Sutherland and the River Edendale where the body was found and it seems like there are more people than Pryde and Cork who are interested in the death, though for more inexplicable and undefined sinister and nefarious reasons. The thriller angle of the book comes into full swing at this point and over the course of two days, as different groups of people with varying goals and interests vie for supremacy, it is unsurprising there are casualties along the way. It remains to be seen who is left standing at the end and whether Cork will be able to unravel the mystery or get caught up in others’ machinations.

Overall Thoughts

The novel is set in 1949, so WW2 is a theme which crops up more as the story progresses. This was an interesting angle but unfortunately I don’t think Hastings mined this area for its full potential, as he tends to focus on present day action of his characters, rather than the back story and the characters’ psychology. That is not to say these areas are implausible or confusing, but I would say in particular the character psychology is underdeveloped in places, especially with Dagger himself. The back story also works and is engaging but I felt it was swept over a bit too quickly.

One area of character psychology which did interest me was with the triangle of characters comprising of Pryde, Daggers and Cork’s assistant Robert Shipley. Throughout the story until quite near the end, Pryde’s behaviour and attitudes are perhaps the greater mystery of the novel, as it is hard to pin her down in terms of how she perceives Daggers and how she wants this mystery to unfold out. In a rare moment where we get to view her perspective more closely, it is interesting to see that Pryde is far from supportive of the thriller, man of action approach Cork and Shipley are taking to the case: ‘So Robert was past reasoning too. He was carrying on as if this was a game of cowboys and Indians…’ Pryde wants to take a more nurturing and sympathetic approach to the case, realising the damaged nature of Dagger. Near the end of the novel Cork temporarily aligns Dagger and Robert with one another saying they are ‘one of the products of the world war,’ being men who are aware of their physical prowess and are armed with the knowledge of how to kill and it is interesting to see how this similarity pans out in both these characters and looking back there are moments where they converge despite being opponents.

Something Hastings does well for most of the story is to make fishing and angling an interesting milieu for those who are not interested in angling as a hobby. This is particularly evident in the opening chapter of the book. However, I think he does fall down when it comes to the end of the story. He attempts to retrieve the more comic and light hearted tone of the beginning of the novel, but this unfortunately is ineffective and not very appropriate. Moreover, he adds an appendix to the end of the book where Colonel Johnson proceeds to bore the reader with a treatise or paper on salmon fishing. This has to be one of the most boring ways to end a book ever and I admit that I stopped reading after the first page and half of this. Considering the drama Hastings creates, the ending is rather disappointing. Additionally although a very active book with an action focus, the action itself does become a little mundane at points and I think the pacing could have improved. There are a number of good points to the book and it does start well, the style in particular is quite entertaining to read, such as when Hastings dismantles Cork’s grandiose imaginings with dull reality:

‘Mr Cork had a notion that the dressing-rooms of lovely prima ballerinas were gilded boudoirs, waist deep in flowers, with Recamier couches and ornate mirrors… Tidied up, Anna Pryde’s dressing room would have served as a cell for a nun.’

Cork himself also has his amusing moments, but I think the thriller plot reduced how effectively Hastings used this character, as this particular type of plot limits Cork’s actions and responses and does not maximise his strengths as a character.

Rating: 3.75/5

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The Poisoned Chocolates Case (1929) by Anthony Berkeley

Source: Review Copy (British Library)


This year I have reread quite a few mysteries, but today’s reread is one with a difference, well two differences really, that of including two additional chapters – one written in 1979 by Christianna Brand and the other by Martin Edwards. With this story’s plot two extra chapters has quite a significant impact and I was eager to read them. In the introduction to the British Library reprint, Martin summarises well that ‘Berkeley blows the gaff on the class detective story… expos[ing] the limitations of the games that detective novelists play with their readers.’ Martin also astutely points out the less than conventional ending, with its ‘note of uncertainty that is at odds with the conventional view that the appeal of the classic detective story lies in fact that, at the end, order is restored.’ Sleuth fallibility is a trope Berkeley featured a lot in his work, but it is safe to say that he takes it to a whole new level in this work, which revolves around the members of the Crimes Circle taking on the challenge of independently working towards a solution for a recent unsolved murder case. The president of this group is Roger Sheringham’s serial sleuth. The other members comprise a Sir Charles Wildman who is successful barrister, a high brow novelist named Alice Dammers, the playwright Mable Fielder-Flemming, a detective fiction writer whose penname is Morton Harrogate Bradley and Ambrose Chitterwick. Each member has one week within which to gather data for their solution to the death of Joan Bendix and the following week each evening a different member will propose their solution and the other members will see if they can discredit it.

The case in question begins with an infamous womaniser, Sir Eustace Pennefather receiving a box of chocolates at his club, supposedly sent from a chocolate manufacturer wanting his opinion on a new range. Annoyed at their audacity, he offers them to Graham Bendix, who says he needs to procure some chocolates for his wife, since she won a bet they had concerning the guessing of a culprit in a theatre mystery play. As you may have already surmised, the chocolates are poisoned and having eaten far more than her husband, Joan dies. Is this an unfortunate accident? Or is there something more sinister afoot? One thing you won’t be short of in this story is solutions, which commence from chapter 5, which I think highlights the focus this novel has and credit is due to Berkeley for making the unfolding of solution after solution an enjoyable and entertaining read. Dammers says early on to one of the others who is giving their theory to ‘keep away from the detective-story atmosphere,’ not believing they should ‘mystify each other.’ Thankfully neither the character speaking nor Berkeley follows this suggestion and the reader as well as the Crimes Circle members undergo a great deal of mystification during the course of the story.

Again it is definitely to Berkeley’s credit that he created an initial mystery in the first place which is open to so many different solutions that are not only highly divergent but are also reasonably plausible when first listened to, before other group members pick holes in them. The crime itself is also interesting in that it can be read in different ways depending on which real life case the character chooses. An important point which is also brought out by the series of solutions is that the solutions are reflective of the people who made them, a factor I had not given much thought to, but it is interesting to consider the extent to which individual attitudes and biases affect such matters.

Image result for the poisoned chocolates case

I would also suggest that as well as these solutions reflecting individuals’ personalities, the whole story also reflects parts of Berkeley’s own character, something I think I only saw on this reread due to having read Martin’s excellent work, The Golden Age of Murder (2015). It would be fair to say that Berkeley had a fraught relationship with women, dedicating two of his novels written as Frances Iles, which feature wives who are murdered by their husbands, to his wives. At the start of the story, the Bendixes are said to have ‘succeeded in achieving that eighth wonder of the modern world, a happy marriage.’ Yet I don’t think it would surprise anyone that this notion does not withstand the solutions brought by the Crimes Circle members. I think Berkeley’s dark humour is also present in the story especially in the scene when Joan Bendix is eating the chocolates, where she notes how they burn her mouth and give her a numb and tingling tongue, yet continues eating them trying to ascertain whether she likes them or not. Though to be fair to Berkeley male characters are also shown in less than brilliant colours and are subject to disconcerting and uncomfortable moments, Sheringham included. Finally Berkeley’s original ending is also quite in keeping with the writer himself in my opinion.

Image result for the poisoned chocolates case

Despite it being another year until The Detection Club, of which Berkeley was a part of, began, I’d say he has recreated the atmosphere brilliantly. Berkeley knows how to write about writers and how to create humorous group dynamics revolving around their competitiveness with each other. In particular I thought it was good that Berkeley allowed us to see how the group members viewed each other and their theories. Sheringham’s reactions in particular arguably mirror the readers’ to an extent at one point, when he moves rapidly from being beguiled by the speaker’s persuasiveness to having swung ‘round… in reaction to the other extreme.’ One of the funniest moments for me is when Sir Wildman’s theory is being pulled apart and Bradley says: ‘You seem to be putting the odds at somewhere round about a million to one. I should put them at six to one. Permutations and combinations you know.’ To which Wildman’s replies, ‘Damn your permutations… And your combinations too.’ And for those with a cursory understanding of clothing terms will be able to predict Bradley’s retort…‘Mr Chairman, is it within the rules of this club for one member to insult another member’s underwear? Besides Sir Charles… I don’t wear the things. Never have done, since I was an infant.’ (N.B. The double entendre in question centres round the dual meaning of the word combinations.)

So what about the extra chapters? Beginning with Brand’s chapter I felt that although the solution proposed is clever, I didn’t think the character psychology ran true and consequently it felt a bit dissatisfying. Conversely though Martin’s new ending was infinitely better, despite the immensity of the task. His ending reminds me very strongly of…



Leo Bruce’s Case for Three Detectives (1936) and in doing so brings the story pleasingly back full circle.

Image result for the poisoned chocolates case


Martin’s writing style also meshes more effectively with Berkeley’s original story than Brand’s does. His ending is also interesting in that it perhaps gives the story a more closed ending in comparison to Berkeley’s more open one. It would be fascinating to find out more about the decisions that went into this ending, given the writing context.

Overall I find this is a story which plays around with reader expectations, frequently overturning them, but in a way which is pleasing to the reader. The way each solution seems to be overturned one after another has an impressive effect and makes you wonder if you will ever trust a solution given in a mystery novel ever again, especially considering the different types of proofs which are dismantled and how when the group members critique each other’s solutions they often highlight the tricks crime writers use to make their solutions seem more convincing than they actually might be. Berkeley’s humour has many different hues and aside from the examples I have mentioned, I also enjoyed how he undercuts contrived tension. I definitely enjoyed this story more this time round than I did when I first read it. The bonus chapters contributed to this of course but I also think I appreciated the original text much more as well, in terms of its character interactions and humour.

Rating: 4.5/5

P.S Ironically rather in the mood for some chocolate now.

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The Treason of Ghosts (2000) by Paul Doherty

It has been a long time since I have read a historical mystery, put off perhaps by an overdose of less than brilliant ones. So today is something of a change for the blog, a change precipitated by me winning a competition ran by the Puzzle Doctor (who writes the In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel blog). The Puzzle Doctor is a massive fan of historical mysteries and Doherty is one of his favourites, which definitely encouraged me, after all it couldn’t have come more highly recommended could it? You can read his own thoughts on the book here. The Treason of Ghosts (2000) is my first experience of Paul Doherty as a writer and it is the 12th book in the Hugh Corbett series. Corbett is a royal clerk and keeper of the King’s secret seal, who is often required to solve perplexing crimes, aided by his assistant Ranulf-atte-Newgate, the principal Clerk in the Chancery.

The Treason of the Ghosts

The book begins with a death, and a rather gruesome one at that. Sunday mass is abruptly interrupted when a villager leads the congregation to a severed head in the mill pond, a head which belonged to Molkyn Miller. Soon afterwards another murder occurs, this time that of a farmer Thorkle. Yet these are not the only mysterious deaths which are taking place as once more women are being attacked and killed. All of which causes the inhabitants of Melford to think back to events five years previously when Lord Roger Chapeleys was hung for murdering a series of women, most notably the Widow Walmer. To the end he protested his innocence and with this return of violence he may well have been speaking the truth. Added to which both Molkyn and Thorkle were a part of the jury which condemned Chapeley. It is these events which Corbett is plunged into and he is quickly suspicious of those involved in the arresting and condemning of Chapeley. Not least because they keep on dying in unpleasant ways. Though it soon becomes apparent that there may be more than one killer on the loose. A sinister tale which gives a new meaning to the phrase of the skeleton in the closet and it is certainly a story where you don’t want to be out after dark.

Overall Thoughts

Firstly I felt the book opened very well with a scene which sets up some of the main characters, as well as commencing the sinister atmosphere. It also concisely highlights the class hierarchy and the structure of the community the mystery is set in. One thing that definitely came across is the greater sense of surveillance over moral purity, in comparison to modern times and the issue of the medieval mind set did come to me throughout the story. At times the attitudes may seem quite alien such as their perception on death, which in medieval artwork is an actual figure both fascinating and terrifying. At other times though there are aspects which seem more familiar such as the reluctance of teenagers to disclose details about their romantic dalliances to their parents. In regards to Doherty’s inclusion of historical detail I think he got the balance right, neither including so much that you become bored nor including so little that the reader has no sense of the time the book is set in.


Corbett is an interesting character to follow and is quite a change from the golden age detectives that I am used to. He is much rougher and sharper around the edges, having no qualms about questioning people in the church crypt. Corbett and his helpers and their relationship also reminded me of Robert Van Gulik’s detective Judge Dee and his attendants, as Ranulf is called onto for physical prowess at times and although there is a sense of a hierarchy, there is also a feeling of comradery. Moreover, Ranulf amongst others are sent on independent tasks and required to obtain information from the local populace, in between quaffing a great deal of ale. Ranulf also makes a point reminiscent of one of Holmes’. It is said that he ‘dislikes the countryside. He claims it’s more dangerous than the alleyways of London’ and as the book progresses it certainly seems like he might be on to something. I also found it interesting how Corbett gives a lot of time and attention to the characters who are marginalised in society, such as the village fool or the poacher’s wife, not decrying their testimony or information because they are from a lower class and he treats them with respect.

All in all this was a good read, with a mystery which has a number of strands to it and quite a healthy (or should I say unhealthy) amount of dead bodies, which come from a variety of different murder methods – one of which definitely has some golden age counterparts. There is not necessarily a lot of physical evidence (until the end in a rather gruesome way) and that there is cannot always be trusted. I wasn’t able to pick out the guilty myself but Corbett does refer back to earlier parts of the story where he gathered important pieces of information.

Rating: 4/5

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Tuesday Night Bloggers: Crime in Costume – Week 2

crime-in-costumeIt is that time of the week again where the Tuesday Night Bloggers meet and share our latest thoughts on this month’s theme – Crimes in Costume. Again there is a wide look at the subject ranging from books to films and even super heroes and villains get a mention or two.

Here are this week’s posts:

Bev at My Reader’s Block: TNB: Crime in Costume – Identity Misdirection (Spoiler Alert!)

Brad at ahsweetmystery blog: Costume in Crime: The Cinema Version

Helen Szamuely at Your Freedom and Ours: Tuesday Night Bloggers: Death Wears a Mask

JJ at The Invisible Event: The Tuesday Night Bloggers – Invoking the Dreads Through Killer Threads

Previous Posts:

Week 1

This week I decided to look at my favourite moments of sleuths in disguise, a theme I briefly touched upon in my post last week. I have chosen these moments for a variety of reasons from their shock factor to their character insights and comic touches.

Favourite Moment No. 1: Lord Peter Wimsey as the mysterious Harlequin

A rather placid Harlequin but the only portrayal of Wimsey in this role

A rather placid Harlequin but the only portrayal of Wimsey in this role

Wimsey disguises himself as Harlequin in Murder Must Advertise (1933) and when I recently reread this book I was intrigued by his Harlequin moments, as I think a different, more fantastical and darker side to Wimsey is shown and the disguise allows him to behave in ways he cannot as his usual self. However, as Bev at My Readers’ Block mentions in her last TNB post, Wimsey undergoes other moments of disguise in this book, which are revealing in the strain this begins to cause him. I also think this instance of disguise reflects Wimsey’s detached manner, whereby he interacts with people at times of his own choosing and it is this manner which has to alter during the Harriet Vane novels.

Favourite Moment No. 2: Sherlock Holmes’ Return


Readers had to wait 11 years after the completion of The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes stories before they had any more with The Return of Sherlock Holmes, (except for a brief respite with The Hound of the Baskervilles in 1902). Holmes’ reappearance after his supposed death is definitely a memorable Holmes moment for me, as it is understated and dramatic all at the same time – he doesn’t enter the book as himself, but he still gets dramatic kudos for how he reveals himself – causing Watson to swoon no less!

Favourite Moment No. 3: Poirot Goes to Work


In the short story ‘The Veiled Lady’ (in Poirot’s Early Cases (1974)) Poirot is not disguised once but twice! The first time is as a workman and the other as a burglar. I chose these two moments for their comic effect, as both disguises/personas are completely outside of Poirot’s remit and David Suchet amusingly carries this across in his adaptation. I think it is telling that other moments of disguise for Poirot are more often ones not requiring physical changes. Instead he is able to use his natural appearance as a form of disguise, as he often plays on people’s assumptions of foreigners and he also uses his middle class background to convincingly pull off subterfuges where he is enquiring about a particular house or person, a good example of which can be found in After the Funeral (1953).

Favourite Moment No. 4: Tuppence as Mrs Blenkinsop

Annoyingly I can't find an illustration of Tuppence as Mrs Blenkinsop

Annoyingly I can’t find an illustration of Tuppence as Mrs Blenkinsop

In N or M? (1941), Tuppence, who is determined to not be left out of a case, assumes a new identity and beats Tommy to the guest house which is to be under observation. The reader can feel her triumph when he arrives and realises his wife is also there. It is a delightfully domestic comic moment and I love how Tuppence refuses to miss out on an adventure, a trait I have come to admire more this year, having read a number of books where wives contribute little to detecting couples.

Favourite Moment No. 5: Sister Pelagia in Pelagia and The White Bulldog (2000)

Sister Pelagia and the White Bulldog

In this book Sister Pelagia, a nun goes undercover pretending to be her own sister. This is an instance of disguise which I love, not only does it lead to some amusing moments, but it is intriguing to see Pelagia outside of her nun role and the assumptions this role carries. Although this example of disguise did remind me of Poirot’s similar stunt in The Big Four (1927), I think Pelagia carries it off much more effectively. Though arguably you could say Pelagia’s role as a nun is a form of disguise, like Miss Marple’s spinster persona, as in both cases these roles cause others to underestimate them.

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Magpie Murders (2016) by Anthony Horowitz

Source: Review Copy (Orion Books)


Before reading this book I hadn’t read anything by Anthony Horowitz, so I was unsure what to expect, though I was aware he had written some continuation novels involving Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty. Magpie Murders (2016) is a challenging book to summarise due to its text within a text nature, but I’ll give it my best shot. The story begins with Susan Ryeland, an editor for Clover Books, who warns us about the book we are about to read, a book she has also read, which she says changed her life forever. The book in question is the Magpie Murders, the 9th book in the Atticus Pünd series written by Alan Conway, a mystery series which is decidedly a part of the golden age genre. So how can such a story radically change your life, to the extent in Ryeland’s case that she changes jobs and loses a number of friends? This is a question which is only answered in the final third of the novel, but first we have Conway’s Magpie Murders.

Conway’s novel which has all the usual opening pages of a novel, including critical reviews purporting to be from Ian Rankin and Robert Harris, is set in 1955 and most of the action takes place in a village named Saxby-on-Avon. It opens with the funeral of Mary Elizabeth Blakiston, the housekeeper of Pye Hall, who died after what is supposed to have been an accidental fall down the stairs of a locked house. Yet village gossip soon suggests otherwise, with Mary’s son, Robert being hinted at as her murderer. This of course leads his fiancée Joy Sanderling to call on Atticus Pünd, yet it seems he has problems of his own (an inoperable brain tumour) and she goes away again. However, Pünd soon sweeps his personal problems to one side when two weeks after the death of Mary, the owner of Pye Hall, Sir Magnus also dies, this time definitely murder. As in all good golden age mysteries there is a plethora of reasons for either of these two characters dying at the hands of another. Mary was a busybody who poked her nose into the affairs of others and knew the village’s guilty secrets. As to Sir Magnus, motives range from anger at his plans to build houses on the Dingle Dell woods, to his wife who is having an affair and his twin sister who he has treated very badly over the years. Pünd’s investigation also causes him to look into another mysterious death from the past, one which marred Mary and her family’s lives ever since.

The final third of the novel returns us to Susan Ryeland and her narrative. I don’t want to say too much about this section of the book, as I think it is best to know very little about it. However, I will say that the events in Conway’s novel take on an increasingly sinister importance as events unfold for Ryeland, taking her on a mystery and detecting adventure of her own.

Overall Thoughts

First Impressions

From the very first page I definitely got good feelings about Horowitz as a writer, as even in the opening sentences he is able to completely wrong foot you, writing transparently but in a way where the reader can fall into traps of their own assumptions. This definitely happened to me, as when you start reading you’re not sure of the gender of the narrator and for me the initial descriptions of their actions came across to me as male, yet of course I was completely wrong as the narrator is Susan Ryeland. This good feeling about Horowitz’s style continued and I think he is very adept at letting information filter through his narrative, rather than dumping information on the reader up front. I really enjoyed this aspect of the book as it made me pay attention more to what I was reading, selecting information to create theories and deductions about the characters, which is ideal in a mystery novel and it also maintains a sinister atmosphere.

Horowitz’s Golden Age Styled Novel

As I mentioned earlier this is a novel within a novel as Horowitz through his character Conway does actually write a complete mystery novel in the golden age vein, which is no mean feat and it is especially no mean feat that he does this exceptionally well. Not only is the setting and atmosphere right, as well as the plot events and character types, but Horowitz also gets the more subtle aspects to golden age detective fiction right, such as the character dynamics between Pünd, his assistant and the police and also the way in which the reader cannot take anything or anyone on first impressions, with Mary the victim in particular going from a woman who helps a lot around the village to a ‘malignant spirit’ which appears out of nowhere as though summoned up in people’s homes. Of course the solution is a crucial aspect of the golden age detective novel and like Christie the clues are often found in characters’ conversations and writing. The solution to Conway’s Magpie Murders is very satisfying and quite clever, with the clues hidden in plain sight, yet misinterpreted by the reader – there is one in particular which really wrong footed me! Like Christie, Horowitz uses familiar tropes but turns them on their heads and also incorporates a nursery rhyme, a motif which runs through a number of Christie’s books. There are many allusions to Christie and her work, some of which are pointed out to the reader, such as place names and even Christie’s grandson, Mathew Pritchard has a cameo appearance.

Atticus Pünd

I felt Pünd deserved a section of his own as he is an integral part of Horowitz’s golden age mystery and there is no denying he owes a lot to Hercule Poirot. Like him he used to work as a policeman, but is now a private detective and he was also a refugee, though in WW2, which entailed a time in a German concentration camp. Yet there are a few little tweaks and changes which I found interesting. For one thing Pünd is less fussy about orderliness and the luxuries of life, with his own bedroom being very austere and it is actually his assistant, James Fraser who is concerned about comfortable travel accommodation. Moreover, Pünd is not religious, contrasting with Poirot’s Catholicism. There are other parallels and divergences which I’ll leave you to discover, but I think Horowitz does a good job of making a character homage to Poirot which deserves to read and treated in its own right.

Horowitz on Detective Fiction

A key part of this novel is that the very genre of detective fiction is deconstructed and critiqued in a loving way, by a writer who loves the genre. And in particular this deconstruction is not done in an over the top or excessive way, but is allowed to filter through the narrative, particularly in the final third of the novel with Ryeland. For instance the nature and the role of the detective is explored and in some ways is deglamourized, emphasising its loneliness and its tendency to breed a lack of trust in others. The book also examines our fascination and obsession, as readers and TV drama watchers, with crime, murder and mystery – and this is an examination which is a mixture of positives and negatives. I also feel the readers’ relationship with fictional sleuths is also touched upon. Golden age detective fiction as a subgenre also comes under the spotlight and is taken to task. As I’ve already said I enjoyed Horowitz’s golden age styled mystery within the book, as it is really good, yet I think the final third of the novel seeks to challenge or redefine its’ value, as we follow Ryeland’s journey. Yet golden age fans do not despair, this is not a deconstruction of a genre, which is clever but unsatisfying for those of us who still wants a good solution to an intriguing mystery. I think Horowitz allows us to have our cake and eat it. At the very beginning of the novel Ryeland says:

‘As far as I’m concerned, you can’t beat a good whodunit: the twists and turns, the clues and the red herrings and then, finally, the satisfaction of having everything explained to you in a way that makes you kick yourself because you hadn’t seen it from the start. That was what I was expecting when I began. But Magpie Murders wasn’t like that.’

When I read this I did have a moment of panic. But it was unfounded, as Horowitz does actually give us a ‘good whodunit,’ with satisfying ‘twists and turns… clues and… red herrings.’ Yet he also gives us something more than that. Something which makes you reflect on your own passion for reading crime fiction, on how you interact with fictional sleuths and even how you perceive favourite authors. Writers as celebrities is a topic which gets interestingly analysed in the book and the rose tinted spectacles definitely come off, with the grandeur we create around favourite authors being replaced with a potentially disillusioning reality.

Final Thoughts

So as you’ve probably gathered this was a book I really enjoyed and loved and I definitely want to read other Horowitz novels. His characterisation is well developed, with characters you ought to feel sympathy for losing it through their own unpleasant personalities, and people who initially you’d think dislikeable, are then shown more sympathetically. Horowitz is also very versatile at changing his writing style to embody the narrator who is telling the tale. I think my only significant niggle with the book is that the pacing could have been improved in the final third of the novel, as it was a bit slow at points. Whilst reading Conway’s Magpie Murders you’ve got the editor’s warning in your head and you wonder when the shock will happen, when the fiction will collide with real life. This does not happen for a long time and you do get engrossed separately into the Conway novel. Ryeland’s narrative largely bookends this text and I did initially wonder when reading the book whether this was a good idea. However, having finished the book I can see in retrospect that it was the better way to do it as I think alternating the narratives would have created a very different feel and focus for the story. I think the metafictional elements of the book are done in an expert way and aren’t included for simple comedy gags, though there is an amusing moment where Horowitz interviews Alan Conway. All in all this was an excellent mystery within a mystery and although Horowitz critiques the golden age style, he also maintains it, not only within the Conway novel but also has subtle elements of it working through the Ryeland narrative. This is also a story where I think the author takes on bigger issues including the reading and writing of novels, providing a sidelight into the challenges and dangers of becoming a popular writer.

Rating: 4.5/5


Something which interested me about the ending of the book (so yes seriously don’t read this until you’ve read the book) is the consequences of solving Conway’s murder for Ryeland. Not only does she have long term physical injuries, but she also loses her career, pushed out of the publishing world as those in it silently judge her for bringing her famous and well-loved male boss to book. This ejection from the publishing world is good news for her partner, who she leaves with to go to his home country of Crete, helping to run a hotel. This moving away from a career to a more traditional feminine role intrigued me as it parallels changes in her reading taste, as she no longer reads whodunits and now turns to Victorian Literature for escapist literature. For me all of these changes and consequences presented an interesting comment on gender, which I hadn’t been expecting from the book, though of course one should expect surprises when reading this book. I’d be interested to read what other people made of the ending, as it is still something I am reflecting on.

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The Red Thumb Mark (1907) by R. Austin Freeman

Freeman is not an author new to me, in fact if I ever wrote a black list for authors I want to avoid at all costs, he would probably feature on it. Why you ask? Well the first novel by Freeman I read was Mr Polton Explains (1940), a most painfully boring book where we suffer reading someone’s mind numbing life story in order to see how they recognise someone in a case Doctor Thorndyke is investigating. Consequently I never thought I would read another book by Freeman and I haven’t until today. The year chosen for Rich at Past Offences’ Crimes of the Century challenge is 1907 this month, the earliest one chosen to date and my options were a little limited. So I decided to give Freeman another go, especially since The Red Thumb Mark (1907) is one of his more well-known novels and over the course of this year I have heard a number of positive comments about him.


In this story Doctor Thorndyke, aided by an old university acquaintance, Doctor Jervis and his trusted laboratory assistant Polton, is tasked with the challenge of proving Reuben Hornby innocent of having stolen a number of expensive diamonds from his uncle’s business’s safe. The safe was not tampered with and the only people who could have accessed the safe key at all are Reuben, his uncle John and his cousin Walter. Yet what damns Reuben is that inside the safe there are drops of blood and a memo note with a bloodied thumb print which appears to be his own; a comparison made using a record of Reuben’s thumb print in his aunt’s Thumbograph (more on that later). Prior to Reuben’s trial the reader is frequently kept in the dark as to what Thorndyke is doing and instead has to be contented with the narrator, Jervis’ actions and it is through Jervis that we find out more about Reuben’s family. Though it seems that in the case of one family member, Juliet Gibson, his views are inevitably romantically biased. Eventually the day of the trial emerges and it remains to be seen whether Thorndyke can come up with the goods.

Overall Thoughts

So the thumbograph. This was a device being sold to the public whereby they could record their family and friends’ thumb prints, an activity so thrilling it was considered as a form of after dinner entertainment. As the picture below shows  the person inks their finger  before printing it on the right hand side. On the left hand side they autograph the prints.


From a social history point of view I found this quite an interesting object and it also gives Freeman a way of bringing Mrs Hornby, Reuben’s aunt into the story, who was quite a comical character and her moment in the witness stand was certainly entertaining.

I think two main things made this a poorer read. The first of these is the amount of scientific detail given. I can see how it is important but unfortunately Freeman can’t really write it in an interesting manner, or at least not consistently. This is particularly problematic at the trial part of the narrative. Alternatively there are moments when it is quite interesting to hear about the science behind the defence’s case at the trial, simply because before this point the reader has been withheld from Thorndyke’s thoughts and to some extent his actions. It is not surprising that one character likens him to a famous magician duo, Maskelyne and Cooke. His reticence does become very annoying and a combination of these two problems significantly affects the pace of the novel and makes it less engaging to read. It perhaps becomes a more pertinent problem in the case of this story as the cast of suspects is very small, so therefore you can hedge your bets quite easily and guess the culprit, so you’re just waiting for Thorndyke to prove their guilt.

Thorndyke is quite reticent about himself as well as with the case, though there are moments when his inner self comes to light. In particular it could be said that he is quite cynical and sceptical of established structures such as the police, the law and lawyers. I did enjoy his critique on finger prints and their value as evidence, suggesting they are not infallible proof nor a ‘magical touchstone… beyond which inquiry need not go.’ Instead he sees a finger print ‘merely [as] a fact – a very important and significant one, I admit – but still a fact, which like any fact, requires to be weighed and measured with reference to its evidential value.’

Jervis’ narration is okay on the whole, though he does slip into a more melodramatic guise when with Juliet. He does suffer from Dr Watson-like hero worship, considering Thorndyke the most handsome man he has ever seen, but this doesn’t pervade the narrative too much. Women in the story as a rule are portrayed as the gentler and more delicate sex, though I think the way Freeman conveys this is quite amusing to the modern reader. For instance when Juliet and Mrs Hornby are said to be arriving at Thorndyke’s home, Polton is anxious that the laboratory should be tidied and Jervis says Polton ‘evidently appreciated the difference between the masculine and feminine view as to the proper appearance of working premises.’ Another instance which intrigued me is when Mrs Hornby asks Jervis if he thinks Thorndyke is ‘a dear.’ At first it could be thought this is an example poking fun at supposed “feminine language” as Jervis replies that ‘I have never considered my colleague in the capacity of a dear, but I have a very high opinion of him in every respect.’ Yet Juliet’s response undermines this assumption as the feminine language is indicated to be superior: ‘I think the feminine expression is more epigrammatic and comprehensive.’ Initially Juliet seems like she will be a less typical female love interest, as she calls Thorndyke out on his biased assumption if she says Reuben is innocent it must be because she is in love with him. However, this is but a brief moment.

So will I be taking Freeman off my mental blacklist? On the one hand compared to my last Freeman novel which got 1/5 as its rating, 3.5/5 does seem to be a healthy increase. However, Freeman relishes marrying scientific methods and knowledge with detection and unfortunately this entails long scientific explanations, which to be honest really don’t interest me and mean very little. Consequently I think he is likely to stay on the list, especially considering how many authors there are out there that I do enjoy reading. As my friend and fellow blogger JJ says, life is too short to read bad books.

Readers’ Homework Task

Slip subtly into conversation the word rhodomontade, which apparently means vain and empty boasting.

Rating: 3.5/5

See also:

Bernadette at Reactions to Reading has also reviewed this book here.

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Murder on the Matterhorn (1951) by Glyn Carr


Glyn Carr (1908-2005) is an author I haven’t tried before, but have known about for a while and like his central sleuth, Abercrombie Lewker, Carr had a passion for outdoor pursuits and exploring, which comes across well in the book. There are 18 Lewker novels published, though the first three were more adventure stories than mysteries (Thanks for the info Santosh!). Also according to the Rue Morgue introduction there is one unpublished novel which has apparently been lost. Glyn Carr was the pseudonym for Frank Showell Styles and it is a name quite reminiscent of another mystery writer and to a lesser degree, Glyn Carr is known for a similar theme, that of writing locked room mysteries though his are of the ‘open aired’ variety, with impossibly difficult murders taking place on mountains.

Lewker is not only a mountain climber but he is also a famous actor-manager and he is planning a holiday climbing the Matterhorn. Yet his holiday takes on a new guise when his old friend, Sir Frederick Claybury, of the British Secret Service, asks him to do a small favour. During WW2, Lewker as part of the secret service worked with Leon Jacot, who was a member of the French Resistance. After the war Jacot did very well for himself in terms of money, fame and a beautiful spouse. Now he has turned his attention to politics and intends to create a new political party in France, which is worrying the Foreign Office considerably, who do not know his political leanings. It is therefore Lewker’s mission to reconnect with Jacot, who is also planning on climbing the Matterhorn, and find out what these leanings are. Also with Jacot is his wife, Deborah, his brother in law, John and his friends Comte and Countess de Goursac. Unsurprisingly though there is antagonism not only within this group, but with other hotel guests who are also acquainted with Jacot. Infidelity, jealousy, past grievances and even political death threats are all bubbling beneath the surface and seem to erupt into violence when Jacot foolhardily attempts to climb the Matterhorn singlehandedly in poor weather conditions. Yet his death is no accident, as it appears that before he fell he was suffocated by his own scarf. But who is responsible? Although the investigation is officially led by the Commissioner, Lewker is also asked to get involved due to his past secret service experience and his knowledge of climbing. There are a plethora of suspects with ranging motives and alibis and it soon seems like the Commissioner and Lewker are working on different lines. But which one of them has correctly identified the killer?

Overall Thoughts

Lewker is a very enjoyable amateur sleuth, comical, yet not too comical. One particularly amusing moment is when he initially responds unfavourably to Claybury’s proposal of a diplomatic missions:

‘I am clairvoyant. I see it all. I am to take Jacot up the Matterhorn, dangle him over Italy on the end of a rope, and threaten to let go unless he tells me whether he favours Communism, Fascism, anarchism or government by, with, or from the people.’

Initially he comes across as a toned down Gervase Fen, as he sometimes acts incongruously to his surroundings, such as not seeing why his maid might find him wearing his climbing balaclava in his sitting room amusing. He also of course has a tendency to quote Shakespeare and I think he has a slight metafictional awareness of his own role. This comes about through his theatrical background and how he perceives his detecting/espionage role in this manner, seeing his differing roles as different characters from a play:

‘Was he (ran the undercurrents of his thoughts) the celebrated actor-manager on holiday, or the solid mountain-climber, or the astute secret agent? The first would be easy to play; the second – tweeds and taciturnity, with a grim set to the jaw and an occasional stare through narrowed eyelids at the challenging peaks; the third, catlike movements and of course an enigmatic smile.’

Furthermore when the murder occurs he envisages his role in the subsequent investigation as a part in a play:

‘Insensibly he found himself looking at it in terms of the dramatic. The stage was nicely set: the French climber-politician – not particularly to be lamented – murdered on the Matterhorn; the hint of a political gang at work; the charming ex-actress wife, now a widow; the Swiss Crime Commissioner himself enlisting the aid of the English amateur. By all the rules the English amateur’s was the fattest part. Could he cast himself for that part?’

Although the metafictional quality which pops up in the text from time to time is also demonstrated in other ways, as the Commissioner himself discusses detective fiction. Interestingly the Commissioner says that:

‘The reader of these tales, Herr Lewker, may perform his own detection in two ways. He may make his deductions from the evidence provided for the fictional detective, or he may make them from the way in which the author treats his fictional suspect…’

A sentiment which I found very pertinent when reading this story as I think I solved the mystery using the latter method, in particular picking up on linguistic clues, as well as character treatment. Yet this metafictional moment is also useful in revealing something of the Commissioner and the Lewker’s personalities. For example, this moment unveils Lewker’s need to be centre of attention:

‘Mr Lewker, whose readings in detective fiction were limited to such of the stories as had been converted into drama, accepted the role of listener with resignation if not with contentment.’

Whilst for the Commissioner it shows his confidence in police methods over amateur efforts, which of course makes for a deliciously ironic ending.

Another character which definitely deserves a mention is Mrs Fillingham, as she is a superbly comical character, especially when she informs Lewker she has been doing some sleuthing of her own, putting another guest under observation:

‘I’ll tell you. I’ve been doing a bit of sleuthing… You’ve been at it, haven’t you? I don’t see why your Aunty Bee shouldn’t have a crack. I used to be a Guider, you know – got my Woodcraft Badge and everything.’

She also elicits comedy from Lewker as well, as on briefly meeting her at breakfast one time he makes a mental note that ‘until the after-breakfast pipe has been smoked… a man is insufficiently armoured against the slings and arrows of outrageous females.’ Was there ever a time where people actually thought or spoke like this? I really hope there was.

Overall this was an enjoyable and entertaining mystery and the solution is very satisfying, though I think readers who have read quite a few mysteries like I have will probably be able to piece the solution together piece by piece, as the various smokescreens and red herrings are easy to identify. Not that this makes it a poor reading experience as the narrative style and characters are very engaging.

Rating: 4.25/5

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