Challenge to the Reader: Crime Writers and Their Other Jobs: A Quiz

Due to a book I am currently reading I have been pondering the many and varied jobs writers have had before or whilst penning their many works. Much internet wandering later and it seems that there are many crime writers out there who have had quite surprising jobs. Suffice to say I thought it would great fun to turn this internet procrastinating into some productive, so here is a quick quiz where all you have to do is match the author to the job. Submit your answers in the comment section below and answers will go up on Friday. Good luck!

Quiz

 

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Death in the Dentist’s Chair (1932) by Molly Thynne

Source: Review Copy (Dean Street Press)

Death in the Dentist's Chair

I’ve been looking forward to the Dean Street reprints of Molly Thynne, having first heard about them from Curtis Evans at The Passing Tramp, who has also written the excellent introductions for the DSP reprints. Molly Thynne (1881-1950) wrote six mystery novels between 1928 and 1933. Aside from the one I am reviewing today the other five are:

  • The Draycott Mystery (1928) (UK: The Red Dwarf)
  • The Murder on the Enriqueta (1929) (US: The Strangler)
  • The Case of Sir Adam Braid (1930)
  • The Crime at the Noah’s Ark: A Christmas Mystery (1931)
  • He Dies and Makes No Sign (1933).

The last two of these mysteries and the one I am reviewing today feature Thynne’s Greek amateur sleuth Dr Constantine (though I’m still not sure what he has a doctorate in), who is also a whizz at chess. With such a name and nationality my mind immediately flew to a novel which came out two years later by Christie – though this is probably just a coincidental similarity. Thynne has an aristocratic lineage, her second cousin once removed being a bridesmaid at the Duke of York’s (later King George VI) wedding in 1923 and was also related to the famous painter James Whistler. Her relations owned and still own the Longleat estate, famous for its safari park, which I have actually been to. At the time there were reviewers who placed her in the same high esteem as they did Crofts and Bailey (though thankfully her writing style is not the same). Whilst another reviewer in 1930 suggested that she was ‘perhaps the best woman writer of detective stories we know.’ This is certainly quite a claim considering the other female crime writers there were at the time. The dentist milieu is not one I have encountered a lot in my reading of detective fiction, except in a later novel by Christie: One, Two, Buckle My Shoe (1940), though it does seem there are a few others out there from authors such as Cornell Woolrich (‘Death Sits in the Dentist Chair’ (1934)), M. C. Beaton (Death of a Dentist (1997)) and Eric B. Olsen (Death in the Dentist’s Chair: A Steve Raymond D. D. S. Mystery (2004)).

Thynne’s mystery begins with the unfortunate Mr Cattistock having several teeth removed at Humphrey Davenport’s dental practice, in preparation for a dental plate being fitted. It is through his eyes that we first view several of the main characters in this mystery, as he recovers in the waiting room. There is Sir Richard Pomfrey, who seems to get on very well with Mrs Vallon (the widow of a theatre owner) and then there’s Lottie Miller, wife of a Hatton Garden jeweller. Our eyes, Mr Cattistock, far from gives her a glowing description:

‘She was too far, he told himself viciously, too old for her ultra-fashionable and expensive clothes, and altogether too dyed, painted and powdered. He took exception to the small, scarlet, bad tempered mouth…’

Interestingly it also seems there is some animosity between her and Pomfrey. Whilst Mrs Miller goes for her appointment, Cattistock leaves the waiting room, leaving Pomfrey and Vallon behind. Soon after this our amateur sleuth appears for his own appointment. Time drags on and the trio begin to wonder what is holding Davenport up. Constantine goes to investigate and finds that Davenport having left his consulting rooms to adjust Mrs Miller’s dentures, has now been locked out of his rooms. The room is eventually broken into only to find Mrs Miller dead, her throat slashed with a sinister and Chinese looking knife. Constantine’s friend, D I Arkwright, is called into investigate from Scotland Yard and his attention begins with those who had been in the waiting room. Suspicion is distributed evenly among the characters (excepting Constantine). Cattistock for example has completely disappeared, not having returned to his hotel, whilst Sir Pomfrey, who seems to have had some kind of past with Mrs Miller, is certainly making himself look suspicious, especially considering he went out to make a phone call during the critical time period. Suspicion then widens out towards Mrs Miller’s own husband who she did not get on well with and who has a dubious past having arrived from Cape Town in 1926 after having been arrested for receiving stolen goods, only to be released due to lack of evidence. There is also the suggestion that robbery may have been the motive as one of the jewels she was wearing has gone missing. If the mystery didn’t seem complex enough, Thynne throws into the mix another murder, of another woman later that day, bearing the same type of wound from a remarkably similar weapon. But who is she? Are the crimes connected? And why is Mr Miller more frightened than grief stricken?

Overall Thoughts

Being new to Thynne’s work, I was interested to see how she used the trope of the amateur sleuth. Doctor Constantine in some ways reminded me of other fictional sleuths. His prowess at chess made me think of Jacques Futrelle’s Augustus S. F. X. Van Dusen, whilst his pushing aside of emotional responses reminded me of the Holmes tradition:

‘The passionate desire to know, stronger than any idle curiosity, that had lured him down so many odd bye-paths in the course of his life and had kept him young and full of zest in spite of his yeas, had asserted itself, and in contemplating Davenport’s reactions to the shock, he had insensibly shaken himself free from the mists of pity and disgust that had obscured his vision. He stepped back from the body and took the scene in, in detail, for the first time.’

Furthermore, like a plethora of other sleuths Constantine prefers to look at crimes as puzzles as he says himself that, ‘I love a puzzle of any kind, and, for my own peace of mind, I find it pleasanter to disregard what the newspapers call ‘the human interest’ and approach the thing as I would a chess problem.’ Although I don’t think Thynne tries to make him into a super sleuth and does reveal a more vulnerable side to him: ‘The mask had dropped from his face now and he looked an old man, tired and apprehensive. His usual clarity of vision had deserted him and his mind was fumbling.’ Moreover, his is not shown to be aloof as throughout the investigation he strives to prove the innocence of his friend, a devotion which doesn’t always bring out the best in him when dealing with Arkwright. On the whole I would say Constantine is an engaging character, but I think I would need to read more of his cases in order to get a firmer grasp of his personality, before I could warm to him like I do with Miss Marple and Lord Peter Wimsey. Furthermore, unlike some detective novels which include both a police sleuth and an amateur one, Thynne has both detective figures pull their weight, with pertinent information for the case coming from both quarters. This had an effective balance and gave the plot greater variety.

Now to the solution, as the novel progresses various avenues of investigation are systematically closed down and with the limited ones available I did begin to wonder whether it would simply be a case of proving or disproving rather alibis. However, Thynne impressed me in how she created a complex and elaborate solution, with an in depth back story, making you reassess certain characters. Initially I did feel dubious about the solution, thinking maybe it was whipped out of the proverbial hat slightly, but this anxiety was allayed by Thynne as she unfolds more and more of the solution, which does fit the evidence of the case. The only thing I think I would have preferred is if the reader was kept a little more in the loop with what Constantine does and why, as near the end of the story before the revelation of the solution, I feel we the readers are kept a little in the dark. Though on reflection I don’t think the story is particularly marred by this.

All in all I would definitely recommend giving Thynne a go, as she does pose an intriguing mystery with every day and more exotic elements. Her narrative style flows well and isn’t littered with dense description or prose, but nor is it so sparse that you feel like something is missing. Constantine and Arkwright are an engaging duo I would like to read more of and there is of the course her three non-serial novels to sample as well.

Rating: 4.25/5

 

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Agatha Christie’s Most Memorable Victims and Villains

With a post title such as this, it is inevitable that spoilers will be abounding in this post. But to give you a heads up in this order the following titles are mentioned: (Victims) Hercule Poirot’s Christmas, Murder on the Orient Express, The Body in the Library, Towards Zero, (Killers) The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, And Then There Were None, Death on the Nile, Curtain, Nemesis and Crooked House.

I was drawn to writing to this post, as I recently reviewed Cards on the Table (1936) and I found myself thinking how unusually memorable Mr Shaitana is as a murder victim, as with some golden age detective novels, the victim is no more than a starting point for an investigation which focuses much more on the suspects or the ‘how’ element of the crime. I’m not quite sure what made Mr Shaitana such a memorable victim for me, perhaps it is the sinister aura given to him or the way that he is set up as a challenge to Poirot, only to die shortly afterwards. You can certainly say he has presence. Of course this left me wondering which of Christie’s other victims were memorable and then naturally my mind turned to her killers. So in short I decided to do a post looking at just that.

Memorable Victims

  1. Simeon Lee in Hercule Poirot’s Christmas (1939)

Like Mr Shaitana I think the reason why Lee stuck in my head was because of his unpleasant nature, though it is probably unpleasant in a different way, more traditionally tyrannical.

Hercule Poirot's Christmas

2. Samuel Ratchett in Murder on the Orient Express (1934)

I remember Ratchett more for the overall mystery he is a part of rather than being remembered for his own sake. Although his back story of abducting and killing a child does make him an apt choice for murder victim.

Murder on the Orient Express

3. Pamela Reeves and Ruby Keene in The Body in the Library (1942)

What impressed me when reading this book for the first time was the killers’ notion of swapping the bodies of the two victims around and it was interesting to see how interchangeable people can become. Moreover it is engaging to see Miss Marple giving the victims time and attention, attention which reveals the tell-tale signs of the swap.

The Body in the Library

4. Audrey Strange in Towards Zero (1944)

Some may think this is an odd choice as to be technically correct Audrey is an intended victim rather than an actual one, as the mystery is solved correctly before she is wrongfully arrested for murder. But I’d still like to include her for that very fact, the fact that although there is already one dead body, it is only there are part of a much more elaborate plan to bump off Audrey. Audrey is also a really interesting character to watch in the story as her behaviour is deliberately ambiguous and it makes her hard to read, which all adds into the mystery of the book.

Towards Zero 4

Memorable Killers

  1. Doctor Sheppard in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926)

This is probably not a surprising choice, but no less deserving a one nevertheless. To have your murderer narrate the story and hide this fact so well is genius and I think it is this fact which makes Doctor Sheppard a memorable killer for me.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd

 

2. Justice Wargrave in And Then There Were None (1939)

Wargrave’s inventiveness as a killer and his twisted sense of justice are both key reasons for why he is a memorable murderer. Moreover, the way he sets about bumping his victims off and the dramatic way he eliminates suspicion from himself are two further things which make this book one of Christie’s most loved mysteries.

And Then There Were None

3. Simon Doyle and Jacqueline de Belleforte in Death on the Nile (1937)

Again, like Justice Wargrave, Doyle and de Belleforte are memorable for the murder method they construct, which is elaborate to say the least. Perhaps also because of the David Suchet TV adaptation of this book, I find there is a certain poignancy surrounding this murderous couple, as their greed and desire for wealth leads them to their own annihilation and permanent separation from one another. Though of course one wonders whether they could have been poor and happy.

Death on the Nile

4. Stephen Norton and Hercule Poirot in Curtain (1975)

What makes Norton so memorable is how he doesn’t get physically involved in murdering people, but through psychological influence and manipulation he causes others to do this and there is something very sinister and frightening about that sort of a person. I have also read a novel this year where there is a similar type of deviant and again this is a person who is hard to forget as a character and also one that makes you feel uncomfortable. I can’t of course not mention Poirot. How can anyone forget a fictional sleuth of his magnitude taking on the role of the murderer? But also what a finish! Christie certainly ends his career in a much more dramatic way than she does for Miss Marple. Then again I can’t really see Miss Marple taking Colonel Mustard out with a lead pipe. Maybe a poison tipped knitting needle?

Curtains

5. Clotilde Bradbury-Scott in Nemesis (1971)

Unlike her medieval namesake, Clotilde is anything but nice and I think one of the reasons she has stuck in my head is due to the Joan Hickson adaptation of this novel and the memorable showdown between Clotilde and Miss Marple. Furthermore, Clotilde is a perfect example of how love can be become twisted and violent, all the while being encased in a person who appears perfectly respectable and normal.

Nemesis

6. Josephine Leonides in Crooked House (1949)

I don’t have as strong memories about this final character and in truth this is another book which should be added to my mental list of books I need to re-read. Yet the two things which did stick in my mind were her young age (is she Christie’s youngest killer?) and also her end, which is dramatically taken out of her hands.

Crooked House

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Reflections on Christie’s Cards on the Table (1936)

N.B. SPOILER ALERT – There are a few spoilers about And Then There Were None in the second paragraph, as well as one mild spoiler about Cards on the Table. However, since this is not a normal review there is no plot summary and generally is probably best read after you have read the book itself.

Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item: Playing Cards

Cards on the Table

A brief survey of the internet shows this to be a well-loved read, featuring in favourite Christie novels lists by Martin Edwards and on 6 of those collected by Curtis Evans at The Passing Tramp. Though I don’t think it has the same celebrity status as some of Christie’s other titles such as Murder on the Orient Express (1934) or And Then There Were None (1939). Then again this may be due to the fact it hasn’t been made into an epic blockbuster. Then again a murder which occurs during a game of bridge may not have the same tension factor as a serial killer bumping people off on an island. Or does it?

And Then There Were None and Cards on the Table

I wanted to begin my post by looking at just that. Or rather the similarities which crop up between Cards on the Table and And Then There Were None. Both texts have a number of characters (10 in And Then There Were None and 4 in Cards on the Table) who are culpable in some way of ending another person’s life, yet are beyond the reach of the law. The morally dubious backgrounds of such characters also means that it is harder to determine the one current murderer, which is voiced in the preface to Cards on the Table: ‘There are only four starters and any one of them, given the right circumstances, might have committed the crime.’ Moreover, like in Cards on the Table, in And Then There Were None, the murder suspects are ‘widely divergent types’ and their motives and means of ending the lives of others vary considerably. In some ways a parallel can be made between Anne Meredith and Vera Claythorne as both of these characters committed their first murders out of a desire for a comfortable living, (Vera murdered her charge so her beau could inherit the family money and then marry her and Anne murdered her employer because they had caught her stealing from them,) and their second ones (well attempted second one in the case of Anne) is borne out of fear, fear in Anne’s case of her past coming out, whilst Vera kills out of fear that Philip Lombard is the murderer on the island. There are also some similarities between Lombard and Major Despard, as they are both explorers who love living dangerously. They are also both involved in romance subplots, though this ends fatally for Lombard.

Cards on the Table 2

A Close Up on Mr Shaitana

Introductions

Though he does not last for long in this book, Mr Shaitana is a memorable victim, which the narrative itself corroborates: ‘The whole of Mr Shaitana’s person caught the eye – it was designed to do so. He deliberately attempted a Mephistophelian effect.’ If you didn’t get the idea he was meant to be a sinister character from the Doctor Faustus allusion then it becomes even more obvious when it is said that ‘he was a man of whom nearly everybody was a little afraid.’ Moreover, this fear people have of him is hard to pin down and quantify, giving him an additional eerie quality. Like many victims in Golden Age detective fiction, such as Jonas Wright in Clyde B. Clason’s Dragon’s Cave (1940) who collected weaponry, Mr Shaitana also is a collector of sorts. He is a collector of people in this case, people who have committed murder and have gone undetected…

Cards on the Table 3

Shaitana and Hercule Poirot

During my re-reading of this book it came more and more apparent to me that Mr Shaitana and Hercule Poirot can be read as doubles (in Doctor Jekyll and Mr Hyde kind of way maybe?) This begins with their physical description as we are told that Mr Shaitana has ‘a fine moustache – a very fine moustache – the only moustache in London, perhaps, that could compete with that of M. Hercule Poirot.’ Furthermore, they both come from outside of the UK and as such as are sometimes treated to unkind and inaccurate assumptions about themselves, with the word ‘mountebank’ being used to describe both of them (though not in this particular book for Poirot). Additionally in this book Poirot describes Mr Shaitana’s mind as ‘tortuous’ and at the denouement of the story Poirot’s mind is similarly named. And this is perhaps where the two character begin to diverge, as tortuous can refer to complexity, but also to deviousness. Both characters employ similar skills yet for different ends. Mr Shaitana is said to be:

‘very quick – very sensitive to expression. It amuses him to experiment – to probe gently in the course of apparently aimless conversation – he is alert to notice a wince, a reservation, a desire to turn the conversation.’

Moreover it is said that ‘he’d only got to hint that he knew everything – and they’d start telling him a lot of things that perhaps he didn’t know.’ What struck me about both these quotes was that the psychological skills and tools mentioned in them are also utilised frequently by Poirot himself, which I felt added a new complexion to the detecting role, that the skills used can easily become abused. At their hearts though Mr Shaitana and Hercule Poirot are different people as Shaitana glorifies the idea of the murderer as ‘an artist,’ whilst Poirot never forgets the moral dimension of what the murderer has done, to Poirot they are always ‘a murderer!’ Finally when I first read Cards on the Table I initially thought Mr Shaitana was to become Poirot’s adversary as the early narrative does present him as a possible challenge or threat. It is therefore deliciously ironic when pages later he becomes the book’s central victim.

Cards on the Table 4

The Elephant in the Room

A topic which often comes up when this book is discussed is whether Mr Shaitana is portrayed in a racist manner. With comments such as these it does make you wonder:

‘Every healthy Englishman who saw him longed earnestly and fervently to kick him!’

‘There’s that damned Dago…’

‘Whether Mr Shaitana was an Argentine, or a Portuguese, or a Greek, or some nationality rightly despised by the insular Briton nobody knew’.

‘Because he was the sort of Dago who needed kicking badly.’

Of course without resurrecting Christie herself and asking why she presented her characters the way she did one can only conjecture what she was trying to do, but for me I don’t think the case of Mr Shaitana is straight forward or clear cut. There is more going on with Mr Shaitana than is first seen. For instance I think when Christie includes comments such as those mentioned above she is often critiquing the speaker of those comments, those ‘insular Britons,’ and revealing their less pleasant side. Another example of this occurring is during the dinner party when Mrs Oliver asks Major Despard about unknown tribal poisons, a question which reveals Mrs Oliver’s own assumptions about the far flung places Despard travels to. She is disappointed by his response as he suggests that tribes tend to stick to the ones their families have used for generations and instead he suggests that she goes ‘to civilisation, not to the wilds for’ unknown poisons, as ‘in the modern laboratory… cultures of innocent-looking germs that will produce bona fide diseases.’ Major Despard is not someone who can stay in “civilisation” for long, soon sickening of it, and it is interesting that he places danger and barbaric forms of killing much closer to home than Mrs Oliver would like.

Cards on the Table 5

Moreover, I think that Mr Shaitana and his death can be regarded as a catalyst in this story, not just for the subsequent plot, but also as a catalyst for revealing other characters’ personalities and their prejudices and assumptions, not just about himself but about other suspects too. In some ways Mr Shaitana brings out the worst in people. Furthermore, his death also brings out the prejudices and assumptions not just of the suspects, but also of the detective figures and the reader also, as his death and the closed number of suspects easily encourage assumption making on psychological surmises, which inevitably are filtered through people’s experiences. And it is in such a scenario that Christie can of course play with our assumptions and ideas and turn them upside down, such as our attitudes towards young female characters. Mrs Oliver herself says about the murder that ‘It’s lucky it’s not in a book. They don’t really like the young and beautiful girl to have done it.’ Yet as we see Christie certainly has fun with that concept.

Cards on the Table 6

Finally, looking back at Mr Shaitana, is he really as awful as some of the characters make out? It is assumed by characters like Anne Meredith that he has a depraved mind: ‘you never know what would strike him as amusing. It might – it might be something cruel… something oriental!’ Nevertheless I think it is the suspects who are shown to have the depraved minds, being mostly un-convicted murderers (Despard probably counts more as an un-convicted case of man-slaughter). Mr Shaitana is far from perfect of course, as he uses his ability to uncover sensational information to cause psychological distress to others, yet Poirot rather than buying into the Mephistopheles persona, emphasises the humanness and therefore the human foibles and follies of Mr Shaitana: ‘Oh, the stupid little man… to dress up as the devil and try to frighten people… He played the part of the devil too successfully. But he was not the devil.’

The Four Sleuths (though mostly Mrs Oliver)

An aspect of this story which I loved was the inclusion of Mrs Oliver and Superintendent Battle, (Colonel Race has never been a character who has stuck in my mind much), as I enjoyed seeing the different ways the sleuths worked. Mrs Oliver has always entertained me and in this book is not to be taken too seriously, though Christie being Christie does allow Mrs Oliver to get the last laugh. Her more intuitive and flamboyant approach to detecting is a delight to read as she hops from idea to idea, never resting on one suspect for long:

‘Absolutely impossible. None of those people can be criminals… In that case, it’s Dr Roberts, I felt instinctively that there was something wrong with that man as soon as I saw him. My instincts never lie.’

I also liked how she interjects a game-like element into their work, which I think the reader catches as they do try to decide which out of the four did the murder. This is also a story where Christie humorously vents some of frustration of writing a detective series, through the character of Mrs Oliver. Interesting, to me at any rate, is that in this story Mrs Oliver is said to have written a detective novel named The Body in the Library and 6 years later Christie goes on to do likewise, with her second Miss Marple novel.

Cards on the Table 8

Tension

And Then There Were None is a brilliant book for relaying the claustrophobic tension the characters feel as they get killed one by one and I think it would be hard to say Cards on the Table managed something similar. Yet in this latter novel I still think Christie creates tension and suspense, which is heightened by the enclosed domestic space within which the murder occurs. Due to their only being four suspects, tension is generated by these characters as they begin to ponder which of them did it and to a degree they do turn on each other. The last 20 or so pages are also superb at conveying tension and suspense as the twists are piled on (one of which I forgot about during my re-read) and there is definitely a race against time feel. I think an uncontrollable human element, which creeps in with the character of Mrs Lorrimer, adds to this atmosphere as you wonder whether Poirot and legal justice will be thwarted.

Cards on the Table 9

Rating: 4.25/5

Other Blog Reviews of: In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel, Mysteries in Paradise, Only Detect

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A Classic Which Deserves Its Reputation: The Leavenworth Case (1878) by Anna K. Green

Source: Review Copy (Harper Collins)

The Leavenworth Case

This is a book and author I have been aware of since I first began being interested in crime fiction as a genre. However, I have only read a short story or two of Green’s starring Violet Strange and the first of her Amelia Butterworth novels, That Affair Next Door (1897) (which also made it into my Top 3 Crime Novels Pre 1929). This novel was an important milestone for the character of the elderly female sleuth. Yet this novel is not the only reason why Green is called ‘the mother of detective fiction,’ as The Leavenworth Case (1878), as John Curran asserts in the Harper Collins’ introduction, was fundamental in giving birth and developing many components of what we now know as Golden Age detective fiction. In this book alone there is a ‘body in the locked library, a victim on the point of changing his will, a floor plan of the murder scene, a coroner’s inquest with medical and ballistic evidence, and a second death.’ There is even ‘a numbered listing of significant points’ about the crime being investigated.

The Leavenworth Case 2

The story is mostly told in the first person by Everett Raymond, a lawyer and junior partner in the law firm used by Mr Leavenworth or should I say used to use, as Leavenworth’s private secretary, James Trueman Harwell bursts into the first chapter announcing the murder of his employer, who has been found shot dead in his own locked library that very morning. Raymond is brought into the case to watch the interests of Leavenworth’s two nieces, Mary and Eleanore at the inquest, though it seems Raymond has taken on more than he has bargained for. Not only are his affections made captive on first sight by Eleanore, but it also seems that his romantic ardour will require him to do some amateur sleuthing in order to clear her name which rapidly seems to be involved in the murder of her uncle. It is quickly established that only someone within the household could have committed the murder. Although Leavenworth’s will favours Mary, there is a lot of circumstantial evidence against Eleanore such as her suspicious behaviour after her uncle’s body is discovered and her disinclination to explain why her handkerchief is found covered in pistol grease and why she was seen to be trying to get rid of the library door key. Moreover her and Mary’s silence on matters makes this case even harder to solve. Why do the two nieces not get on? Who is Eleanore shielding? A blast from the past seems to yield the answer, but as Gryce knows better than most, not everything is what it seems…

Overall Thoughts

Gryce and Raymond – The Professional and Amateur Sleuth

One of the things which gives this novel a slight sensation fiction edge is the more dominant role of the family lawyer- now amateur detective, in comparison to the smaller narrative space given to Detective Gryce who actually solves the case. Gryce is described as deifying reader expectation, not being ‘the thin, wiry individual with the piercing eye you are doubtless expecting to see. On the contrary, Mr Gryce was a portly, comfortable personage with an eye that never pierced, that did not even rest on you.’ Although that does not mean he is not observant as Mary Leavenworth says that ‘nothing can escape the penetration of… [his] eye.’ He is very willing to work with Raymond, despite the subsequent difficulties this presents, as Raymond often likes to play a lone hand for the most snobbish of reasons, thinking only he is able to interpret the clues he finds correctly, though of course events prove this false. Normally an amateur sleuth like this who is a bit sanctimonious and subconsciously suffering from social and intellectual snobbery would annoy me. But this time round this wasn’t the case and I found it interesting to contrast the two detective figures and looking at how Raymond’s social prejudices and chivalric notions give him tunnel vision and thereby hamper his detecting abilities. Yet of course the narrative itself, dominated by Raymond, does not consciously present him as being in such a position and it is interesting to look at how police detectives are perceived.

The Leavenworth Case 3

Doubling

Reflecting back on the novel I realised that there is number of doubles or doubling up types which then contrast with each other such as the two detective figures and the two nieces. There is another doubling instance I can think of but it probably constitutes a spoiler. There is also a feeling of doubling within Raymond himself as on entering the inquest he says:

‘I found myself experiencing something of the same sensation of double personality which years before had followed an enforced use of ether. I appeared to be living two lives at once: in two distinct places, with two separate sets of incidents going on…’

The two nieces though are probably the most significant example of doubling. Raymond on dreaming about them and the case says, ‘It was like a double vision of light and darkness that, while contrasting, neither assimilated nor harmonised’ and there is a moment where you wonder whether Raymond is attracted to both of the nieces. Both nieces arguably represent a different type of femininity in some ways. Eleanore comes across as much more sincere and is resolutely silent, whilst Mary is far more ready to employ her feminine wiles on those around her. Yet their mixture of faults and virtues means that the dichotomy of a woman being an angel or devil (which can be found in numerous Victorian novels) is unattainable in this book.

The Leavenworth Case 4

Characterisation and Reader Assumptions

For me the inquest is a crucial part of the text as it sets up the reader with some vital clues, but also a number of red herrings, based on how the characters and the reader judge certain people, particularly the two nieces. Further information about the case is also drawn out in an engaging way. I enjoyed the guessing or deduction process of evaluating the testimonies given and making judgements on the characters. This first section of the story also plays on the readers’ emotions, making the reader alternate between which niece they side with, though the reader soon finds themselves doubting who is guilty and who is innocent. Both nieces have their own not so endearing qualities. Mary comes across as very insincere and calculating, employing sickeningly sweet speech to endear herself to the male figures around her. Conversely Eleanore seems more genuine, yet consequently gives a very poor impression of herself, appearing quite haughty and guiltily suspicious at times. Outwards appearances are certainly deceptive in this book and Green is adept at portraying morally ambiguous characters. The nieces are guilty of acting and speaking melodramatically sometimes, but I think this is kept in check so it doesn’t become wearing for the modern day reader.

The Leavenworth Case 5

When I reviewed When Last I Died (1941) earlier this month I looked at the attitudes towards female killers or women who are suspected of murder, with various external factors determining how lenient the judge or jury will be. A similar theme comes up in this book, though for people like Raymond, a female killer is patently absurd due to his buying into of traditional notions of femininity: ‘you cannot have the temerity to declare that this young and tender creature can by any possibility be considered as at all likely to be implicated in a crime so monstrous unnatural.’

Shakespeare

Suffice to say that Green knows her Shakespeare well, quoting from various plays at the start of her chapters. Macbeth, Hamlet and Othello are often used, although Green also touches on The Tempest, Much Ado About Nothing, Julius Caesar and The Merchant of Venice. Anyone considering to continue the work begun by Lisa Hopkins’ Shakespearean Allusions in Crime Fiction (2016), would do well to start here. I wouldn’t say these quotes are just space fillers and in some ways I think there are a couple of characters who easily parallel or connect with the figure of Othello, whose blind passion inhibits him seeing the truth about someone. Moreover I think the Macbeth allusions tie into the crime motivations, though in a way they are a little bit of a red herring.

The Leavenworth Case 6

Chivalry and Chivalric love – SPOILERS!

These two themes are subtly intertwined with both those trying to solve the murder and with the person who did the killing. I have already discussed Raymond’s chivalric notions when it comes to the murky job of detecting, so I am going to focus on our killer’s interaction with these two themes. In their hands chivalry and chivalric love is reinvented, but in such a way that is becomes twisted and sullied. For example in the 19th century Leon Gautier wrote a list of ten commandments summing up the chivalric code of the 11th and 12 the centuries. Two of them in particular are ‘Thou shalt respect all weaknesses, and shalt constitute thyself the defender of them’ and ‘Thou shalt be everywhere and always the champion of the Right and the Good against Injustice and Evil.’ When it comes to the confession of the killer it can be said they perceive themselves as a knight who needed to rescue Mary Leavenworth from the tyranny of her uncle. In particular the killer says they committed the murder in response to her cry for help, which she thought no one had heard. Yet what the killer actually does is far from protect and defend Mary, he brings her and her niece under grave suspicion, nearly getting them arrested. Moreover, he is an unwarranted champion. This led me to think about chivalric or courtly love as in such a situation ‘the lover accepts the independence of his mistress and tries to make himself worthy of her by acting bravely and honourably and by doing whatever deeds she might desire, subjecting himself to a series of tests to prove to her his ardour and commitment’ (Wiki). Mary is certainly haughty enough to be the object of a knight’s desire and the killer themselves sees the murder and the subsequent events as tests which prove his devotion. Yet because they have committed murder on their own initiative, there is no honour or bravery in their acts. Furthermore, this chivalric vision is only in the killer’s head, unsupported by and repelled by Mary when she finds out about it, leaving the killer in a tortuous position: ‘and I have given my soul to hell for a shadow.’ I suppose in one way Green could be suggesting the potential dangers of chivalry or its’ place in 19th century America. Additionally I would say that although Raymond is not led to commit criminal acts due to his chivalric notions, it is shown that these notions do inhibit his ability to detect and it is due to Gryce, who does not have such notions, that the truth is discovered and consequently Gryce comes across as a more modern person.

The Leavenworth Case 7

Criminal Psychology and the Killer – SPOILERS!

At the end of the book the reader is given the murderer’s own confession, which is not repetitious and nor is it there to just to fill space. I think this section shows again Green developing crime fiction and sowing seeds for later writers. In particular this confession reminded me of Patricia Highsmith’s Tom Ripley, as both he and the killer share an unusual interaction with emotions and on the outside seem to feel nothing: ‘life was well-nigh a blank to me; a dead level plain that had to be traversed whether I would or not.’ Moreover, they are people who do not fit well with those around them. They fail to make meaningful relationships and there is a sense of duplicity about them.

Final Thoughts

Although it has its melodramatic moments, this is a strong and well-constructed mystery, with plenty of clues (physical and psychological), as well as a good handful of red herrings. It would not have been too out of place if it had been published in the 1920s in my opinion such are the parallels between Golden Age detective fiction and this its’ predecessor. Its’ reputation as a cornerstone in detective fiction writing is certainly justified and I’d warmly recommend it.

Line which stood out the most: ‘I wished to knit her beauty so firmly into the warp and woof of my being…’ (What on earth does woof mean in this context?)

Rating: 4.5/5

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The Puzzle of the Silver Persian (1934) by Stuart Palmer

Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item: Book

It has been a long time since I have read one of Stuart Palmer’s Hildegarde Withers stories, having read The Penguin Pool Murders (1931) a few years ago.

The Puzzle of the Silver Persian

The book commences with a passenger freighter called the American Diplomat and a Persian cat named Tobermory, who is less than pleased about taking such a trip with his owner the Honourable Emily Pendavid. Pendavid’s cat dips in and out of the narrative, ultimately playing quite a role in the killer being caught, though some readers may find it rather a leap in imagination. But I am getting ahead of myself, as before you can catch a killer there has to be a crime. Palmer works up to this showing us the dynamics of the guests who all sit on one table for dinner. On this table is the ships’ doctor, Doctor Waite, our very own Hildegarde Withers, Tom and Loulu Hammonds, Rosemary Fraser and her friend Candida Noring, Pendavid and her nephew, Leslie Reverson and Andy Todd. As you might expect in a detective novel there is tension among the group, mostly centred on or concerning the young and beautiful Rosemary. Rumour has it that she is having romantic liaisons with someone on the ship, much to Todd’s chagrin having been thoroughly snubbed by her and Loulu is also far from pleased as there is evidence to suggest that her husband might be the man in question. The scandal comes more into the open due to a scheme devised by Todd, despite it backfiring, as he goes onto create a further unpleasant joke referring to the incident. Rosemary seems to have taken the joke well, until events later that night, the night Rosemary disappears…

Her disappearance seems impossible in some ways. She is seen by Hildegarde Withers standing by the rails and in the next moment she is not there. Her friend coming from the other direction has not seen her. A later search of the boat does not find her. The first assumption is that she has committed suicide, by jumping overboard, afraid that her behaviour on the boat might get back to her parents. Yet Withers is sure there was no splash and nor is there a suicide note. Events take an even stranger turn when due to Candida’s testimony the bar steward, Peter Noel, is charged with the murder of Rosemary, by Scotland Yard representatives, and in the process of arresting him he dies of cyanide poisoning, assumed a suicide. Although the police feel fairly sure the case is all but wrapped up, Withers and the readers feel that not everything adds up. Many of the characters already mentioned move onto the same hotel, waiting for the inquest before going on their way. Yet further drama is to ensue, beginning with a series of anonymous threats in Rosemary’s handwriting and then subsequent deaths, leading Withers to wonder whether all of the guests on Rosemary’s table are being bumped off one by one…

Overall Thoughts

All in all I would say this was a good read and when I look back at it, the central puzzle and the surrounding mystification is far more complex than I first realised, with Palmer using certain expectations as rather successful red herrings. Characterisation took on an especially crucial role in this book for me. Firstly this is a book where character reactions are important and if read correctly can dispel some of the mystery. Characterisation is also fundamental in this book as the disappearance of Rosemary has quite an effect on the remaining guests and has the ability to transform them. Finally characterisation was something I noticed a lot in this book because of Hildegarde Withers. I remember quite liking her in The Penguin Pool Murder, yet this book has shown me a number of different aspects to her character, which ultimately made me like her less, though this didn’t have a detrimental effect on my reading experience. For example, Withers seemed to have a good rapport with children in The Penguin Pool Murder and I thought although she was firm, she was also kind. Yet in this book, which reveals something of its’ times, Withers has a much more aggressive approach to discipline, severely caning a boy firstly to get information out him and then some more for good measure! Talk about the third degree! Withers’ recourse to violence to get her information, undermined her detecting abilities in my opinion. Granted the child is an unpleasant one, but I don’t think her response is that condonable and at the end of the book she urges the parents of the child to leave him at a strict boarding school, saying that as parents they have done enough damage through farming him out to relatives. She then advocates they have another child and hope things turn out better with that one! The reasoning behind her advice fairly boggles the mind and more than once in this book I have felt that Christie’s Miss Marple is a far wiser person with more perspicacious advice. Equally her ideas on smoothing marital strife aren’t always that brilliant, though quite amusing to the reader. Rather than deal with the underlying issue or have an honest heart to heart about the problem, the husband in the marriage just needs to buy the woman an expensive gift, job done. Finally although legal justice gets to prevail, Withers does admit that she was planning on taking a more unorthodox approach, a position which she never really justifies and I guess having mentally placed her in the Miss Marple camp based on The Penguin Pool Murder, this behaviour rather surprised me.

I think my only niggle with this book in terms of its’ construction and mystery, is that I would have liked the final solution to have been backed up more by physical evidence rather than relying on a very well thought out theory which does fit the facts but does need bolstering by the culprit’s confession.

Final thought: The hotel Withers stays at in London, a fairly well to do one as well, doesn’t give their guests keys to their rooms, thereby meaning they can’t lock their doors. Why you ask? Apparently having to unlock and lock each room to clean it is too inconveniencing for the maids! Perhaps not the most realistic aspect of the book…

Rating: 4.25/5

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The Mystery of The Three Orchids (1942) by Augusto De Angelis

Source: Review Copy (Pushkin Vertigo)

The Mystery of the Three Orchids

I first read this author’s work earlier this year when I reviewed The Hotel of the Three Roses (1936) which I enjoyed for its’ central sleuth, narrative style and the way it built up tension. The Mystery of the Three Orchids (1942) is the third novel by Angelis to be reprinted by Pushkin Vertigo and Angelis was an Italian crime writer who published 20 novels, featuring his series’ sleuth Inspector De Vincenzi, between 1935 and 1943. Angelis thought ‘the detective novel is the fruit – the red, bloodied fruit of our age’ and in a way this is perhaps shown in the motivations behind the crimes which take place, oscillating around greedy desires. The Pushkin Vertigo edition also says that Angelis ‘saw in… [detective fiction’s] unifying popularity a potential catalyst for revolutionary change.’ I found this an intriguing statement and it made me wonder how this is reflected in his work. Based on the two novels I have read I can’t really see it, but perhaps I am not looking for the right things. Angelis was a Marxist living in a Fascism ruled Italy and his fiction was often censored by the authorities. He was arrested in 1943 and imprisoned for 3 months for writing anti-Fascist material. Soon after his release though he died from being beat up by a fascist supporter in 1944.

The book revolves around Cristiana O’Brian’s fashion house and opens with a tantalising preface. Fifty invites have been sent for a fashion show of O’Brian’s latest collections. Yet fifty two guests appear. Two bodies are mentioned, one of which is found on O’Brien’s bed. What sets this crime spree in motion is the early release of a certain prisoner from the Kansas City Penitentiary. Within a mere paragraph I was hooked, wanting to know what all the hints and enigmatic remarks pertained to.

The novel proper opens with O’Brien having the shock of her life. She came to Italy to escape her past, yet in the audience of her fashion show is someone who is very likely to bring it all back to her. Inconsolable she rushes to her bedroom and finds the first corpse, her ‘loyal drudge’ who has been strangled. By the body is an orchid, a sight which fills O’Brien with more terror than the body. Inspector De Vincenzi is inevitably called in and the claustrophobic nature of the setting, maintains the tense atmosphere as does another corpse accompanied by an orchid, a murder having taken place under Vincenzi’s very nose. This time a witness who probably knew too much. The cast of suspects are full of secrets they want kept hidden, especially O’Brien, who fulfils an ambiguous role. As more orchids are found and further deaths predicted, Vincenzi wonders how he can catch the killer, ultimately deciding on a trap… ‘So he wasn’t playing fair and square? Well, neither was the murderer?’

Overall Thoughts

In short this was another excellent read by Angelis, who once more shows himself an effective writer when it comes to propagating tension and hooking his readers in with tantalising remarks. For example when the first body is found two comments are made about the identity of the victim, narrowing down the field, yet not revealing the name until the last moment before the police arrive. The tense atmosphere is also used to mislead the reader, setting them up to think one thing, only to reveal a sentence later something completely different, a skill which can be found in the opening line of the first chapter. So there is action, suspense and intrigue from the very beginning.

Characterisation is an important part of any fiction read for me, as regular readers of this blog have probably twigged and again Angelis excels in this category. One of the most interesting characters is O’Brien who can initially be seen in a sympathetic light but who soon reveals a much more negative and heartless side, which is evinced in her attitude to the first corpse saying they were ‘nothing to me. He didn’t mean anything to anyone. He was my personal secretary, having been my waiter and then my errand boy. He belonged to me, belonged to the O’Brien Fashion House’ and Inspector De Vincenzi replies to this that the victim ‘belonged to’ her ‘like an object, or a cute pet.’ The objection of the male in fiction is arguably less frequent than that of women (though maybe it depends on what you read of course), but the way this victim is objectified did stand out for me. Not least because in contrast to the subsequent female victim, the first corpse is gazed at and commented on much more. Conversely the second victim is soon covered up to prevent them becoming a spectacle. However, as the investigation progresses more is uncovered about the first victim, which shows they were an object that had no intention of staying that way.

The Inspector himself is another interesting character and I think this second book has helped me to find out more about him as a person, though his personal life is not significantly mentioned (the short time span of these novels probably contribute to this). Like Annie Haynes’ Inspector Stoddart, Inspector de Vincenzi has a more cynical attitude towards women believing that ‘lying and distraction come easily to… [them] their deviousness is automatic.’ Additionally this story emphasised to me how the Inspector is not considered a typical police detective by other characters (finding such ‘novelty… dangerous’) and that he doesn’t entirely fit into the system he upholds:

‘After he’d given his orders he was stuck by the feeling he always had in these cases: it was his absolute duty to set the official machine of justice in motion – with all its rules and procedures, red tape and useful scientific techniques. Yet he couldn’t help but think how powerless that machine was to unveil the perpetrator of the crimes, given that the killer had to be present, visible and recognisable, and only someone who knew how to read the murderer’s soul could unmask them.’

This quote in particular made me consider how the role of the detective is being presented, as what sort of person do you have to be to ‘read a murderer’s soul’ correctly, without being a killer yourself? It rather reminded me of a passage from G. K. Chesterton’s ‘The Secret of Father Brown’ (1927) where Father Brown explains how he solved some murders:

“You see, it was I who killed all those people.”

“What?” repeated the other, in a small voice out of a vast silence.

“You see, I had murdered them all myself,” explained Father Brown patiently. “So, of course, I knew how it was done.”

“I had planned out each of the crimes very carefully,” went on Father Brown, “I had thought out exactly how a thing like that could be done, and in what style or state of mind a man could really do it. And when I was quite sure that I felt exactly like the murderer myself, of course I knew who he was.”

In terms of the investigation I think the Inspector prefers to rely on psychological clues. Physical clues are involved in the case to an extent, though they should be treated with caution. I didn’t guess the killer, but I felt it was a good choice, as the narrative didn’t make you look in that direction. I think something I would have liked to have seen used more in the narrative, especially given Angelis’ strength in creating tension, is the ‘museum of horrors,’ otherwise known as the closet where the client’s mannequins are kept. A sinister place which I felt could have been made more of. So all in all this has been another success by Angelis and I look forward to trying more of his stories.

Rating: 4.5/5

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Sheep’s Clothing (1955) by Austin Lee

This author was brought to my attention by the Grey Ladies Press. Austin Lee was a clergyman and a maverick one at that, never staying in a position for long and the tongue in cheek approach to depicting the clergy in this book may stem from his own experiences. Sheep’s Clothing (1955) begins with Flora Hogg embarking on a new career as a private investigator, after the death of her father, who was a superintendent, though her past experience as a teacher comes in handy for her new role, as like Patricia Wentworth’s Miss Silver, Flora Hogg can quickly spot childish lies and she exerts a natural authority at times. Her first case involves strange goings on in Emily Dewdney’s house. Items in her old father’s library are going missing or are being disarranged. Flora Hogg wonders whether there may be something of value in the library that someone is trying to find. Dewdney’s father initially travelled the world as an epigraphist, but he soon turned his attention to discovering rare ancient manuscripts. He was on such a trip in Armenia when he died of a fever, his luggage returned home yet never looked at. It seems like Flora Hogg may be onto something as there suddenly seems to be a lot of interest in Dewdney’s father, with three different people wanting to write a biography on him (and therefore wanting access to his library), amongst others.

One such person interested in Dewdney’s father is Bishop Tucson, yet events take a dramatic turn in the investigation when one night he is found murdered in Dewdney’s library. Both DI Bruce and Flora Hogg take on the case, which has more than one surprise for them, the primary one being the real identity of the victim. Yet there is a plethora of shifty suspects, who know more than they say about what is in Dewdney’s library. A letter from Dewdney’s father collected in a new biography of his patron may well hold the key and for brief moments there is a sedate Indiana Jones feel. Whatever is being sought, it has not been found yet, meaning that Flora Hogg may get more than she bargained for when she began her career in detection.

sheep's Clothing

Overall Thoughts

On the whole this is definitely a book I enjoyed reading. Lee has an engaging narrative style which has moments of gentle comedy, which are not overdone. His style also allows the reader to view the story from different character point of views (third person omniscient), meaning information about the case is pieced together from different sources, which worked effectively. This is also a story where the mystery balances the things which you can figure out about the case, with things which you cannot, and I felt it was balanced just right. I don’t enjoy mysteries as much when I can solve the entire case miles ahead of the sleuth, but then I don’t always enjoy mysteries where I can’t solve any of it, as sometimes the reason for this is because too much information is withheld or the crime itself is too technical. There is also a good pace in this story and I would definitely be interested in reading more of Lee’s books.

Flora Hogg is an interesting character as the death of her father is in many ways a release for her from having to conform to traditional expectations of women and she no longer has to repress her more adventurous side. This suppression of her nature is capsulated in the opening lines of the story:

‘Her Christian name she owed to the romantic temperament of her mother… a temperament which Flora had in no small measure inherited, though it had remained undiscovered by the majority of the pupils at the Surrey County school…’

Moreover, although we are never told explicitly why Flora chooses to become a private investigator, it does become apparent why she didn’t choose to become one sooner:

‘The Superintendent had believed that the woman’s only place was the home, ministering to the comforts of the male of the species, though he had grudgingly allowed that teaching was a less unsuitable profession than most.’

I liked Flora Hogg’s no nonsense attitude and although I was a little concerned initially that she wouldn’t end up doing much detective work, her involvement in the case after the murder picks up and she becomes much more involved in uncovering information. Although I do think the narrative tries to emphasise the luck factor in her success, which perhaps undermines her role as a rational detective a little, but not so much that the reading experience is diminished.

Characterisation is a strong element of this book and I think Reverend Earwicker and his family are memorably portrayed, made distinct from one another in a concise yet effective way in their disparate responses to the arrival of Bishop Tucson. These are also moments where the story’s gentle comedy is visible. Detective fiction often has excelsior, information which gives a book a certain theme, such as the campanology in Sayers’ Nine Tailors (1934). In this book it intrigued me that the excelsior had quite a bit of range spanning both ancient and modern times, which I think came across in the style of the book, as it commences in quite a traditional way, but as we near the end of the book a much stronger 1950s flavour comes through.

I think my only niggle with this book is that the narrative steers away from, let’s call it X, which is intrinsic to the solution, only allowing the reader access at the very end of the book. Part of me felt this was a little unfair but I can also see how maybe for Lee this was the easiest way of maintaining the mystery for longer.

Finally Flora Hogg’s response to having a gun pulled out on her:

‘I think that’s rather rude.’

Rating: 4.5/5

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The Cheltenham Square Murder (1937) by John Bude

Source: Review Copy (British Library)

The Cheltenham Square Murder

This is my second Bude review for the blog, the first one occurring in January when I reviewed the British Library reprint of Death on the Riviera (1952), a later Bude book, which I enjoyed more than some of his earlier mysteries. This time round I was interested to return to his earlier work and see at what point his writing came into its’ own. This story has a closed set of suspects, as delineated by the geographical location, a residential square containing 10 houses. To begin with Bude sets the place up as a quiet idyll. Yet within a page or so he rapidly smashes this notion with reality and the everyday. With lines such as this:

‘The general effect is of a quiet residential backwater in which old people can grow becomingly older, undisturbed by the rush and clatter of a generation which has left them nothing but the memories of a past epoch,’

one might expect the setting to be reminiscent of Miss Marple’s St Mary Mead. Yet despite this square containing titled characters (Sir Wilfred and Lady Eleanor Whitcomb), a reverend and his sister (Reverend Cyril Matthews and Annie Matthews), a traditional appearing doctor (Doctor Pratt) and a trio of spinsters (Miss Boon, Miss Nancy and Emmeline Watt), this place is not quite so St Mary Mead like and has a more modern feel at times. There is a retired stock broker named Edward Buller and rakish Captain Cotton, who seems to be spending beyond his means and also manages to seduce Isobel West, the wife of another of the square’s residents, Arthur West, and ultimately she does leave Arthur. His financial difficulties force him to put his house up for sale and to move to cheaper quarters. Added to which there is a rumour going round that Buller deliberately gave West duff information to make a profit for himself. Though before Arthur moves he makes one final mark on the place, having an elm tree cut down, to the consternation of quite a few of residents and this is an event which comes back to haunt him.

As Martin Edwards suggests in the introduction to the British Library reprint of this book, Bude gives the reader many possibilities for who the murder victim might be and there is also quite a wide selection of suspects. Death strikes at Buller’s home, yet it isn’t Buller who is dead… It’s Cotton, who has had an arrow shot into the back of his head. An unusual murder method like this will surely make it easy to find the killer as how many people could have the prerequisite skill? Quite a few actually, as it just so happens that many of the residents are members of the local archery club. West unsurprisingly heads the list of suspects, especially considering it is his empty house (Sherlock Holmes link maybe?) which is believed to have been used by the killer, though it does come apparent that more than one person had a reason to hate him. There are also some odd goings on in Cotton’s household and thousands of pounds have gone missing from his safe. Thankfully for Inspector Long who is in charge of case, Superintendent Meredith is holidaying with the crime writer Aldous Barnet, another resident of the square, and so can lend a hand.

Conflicting testimony makes this a difficult case to solve, though interesting to read about and more than one character has a shaky alibi, though it is alibis which become the hardest element of the case to solve, not least because death strikes again and the victims aren’t always human…

The Cheltenham Square Murder2

I definitely enjoyed the more traditional feel of this mystery and I think it works well with the police having one case to focus on, unlike in Death on the Riviera, where the police had to solve two cases, yet one case inevitably got more attention than the other. Bude creates a very successful and effective cast of characters, though I think Aldous is underused in the story. As in Death on the Riviera, humour gently pervades the dialogue in the story and for the main part the police investigation, although thorough, was written in an interesting way. The only problem for me was the pacing of the final third, which I found quite slow. The police are fairly quick at making deductions and finding evidence though there are two moments where Meredith really is quite slow and where I think the reader will have grasped the point quicker. I guessed the “who” element of the story fairly early, but wasn’t able to completely fathom the how and in some respects I don’t think the reader is meant to solve it all by themselves. Finally something I think Bude did consistently well throughout the story was to make things not always appear as what they seem and the crimes in particular are visually deceptive.

Rating: 4/5 In terms of characters and setting and the events of the novel I enjoyed this one more than Death on the Riviera. However, it has ended up with the same score as this later book because of the pacing issue in the final third. However, for people who love howdunnits and the proving of the guilt, then this issue probably won’t exist and I think this book does showcase Bude’s skills as a writer and would be a good one for readers new to Bude to try.

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My 300th Post: Top 10 Posts of the year so far and Childhood Mystery Fiction

I can’t believe it’s that time again already with another 100 posts completed. To commence my 300th post I decided to see what my Top 10 Posts of the year so far were. Some of these I predicted, though there was definitely one or two which surprised me. Here were the results:

  1. Tuesday Night Bloggers: Why you should give Dorothy L. Sayers’ Gaudy Night (1935) another look.
  2. A Behind the Scenes Look at Reprinting the Golden Age: Interviewing the Dean Street Press
  3. Golden Age Advice on Visiting Country Houses
  4. Bodies from the Library Conference (2016)
  5. The Polo Ground Mystery (1932) by Robin Forsythe: A Country House Murder with Wildean Interludes
  6. Emotions in Golden Age Detective Fiction
  7. The Verdict of Us All: The Author You Wish Had Written One More Book
  8. Tuesday Night Bloggers: Why did Golden Age Detective Writers Situate their Murder Mysteries on Holidays and Modes of Transport
  9. Solve These Agatha Christie Titles Cryptic Clues
  10. Tuesday Night Bloggers: Agatha Christie’s Advice for Going on Holiday

Moving on to my post’s second topic: mystery fiction of my childhood, which has been a topic I have been ruminating on recently. Unlike many of my fellow bloggers, I don’t have any childhood memories of reading a tattered copy of an Agatha Christie novel, which led to me becoming a crime fiction fan. And this is not because I am suffering from amnesia, but that I didn’t start reading Christie until I was at university, when I also first read the Sherlock Holmes stories. My reading history before this was mixed, beginning heavily with non-fiction (history in particular), before moving into historical fiction and it was when I was looking back at this last genre that I realised that a number of these books, some of which were favourites, definitely had a strong mystery element. So I thought I’d share some of these with you. It would be interesting to see whether anyone else has read any of these and also what other people’s favourite childhood mystery stories were. This short list is not the entirety of the historical mystery fiction I read when I was younger, but these are the titles which have stuck in my mind the most:

  1. The Sally Lockhart series by Philip Pullman

The four titles in this series were The Ruby in the Smoke (1985), The Shadow in the North (1986), The Tiger in the Well (1990) and The Tin Princess (1994) and they take place during the mid-late Victorian period. The central protagonist (though less so in the final book) is Sally Lockhart and I liked her dynamic and active approach to life and this is not a series which shies away from painful life events. She is not a professional sleuth, but she does end up unravelling a number of mysteries which come very close to home involving varying family members.

  1. The Lady Grace mysteries by Patricia Finney, Sara Volger and Jan Burchett

It is only in the writing of this post that I actually realised that there was more than one author involved and the fact that I didn’t notice much of a difference in style between books suggests that they did a pretty good job at maintaining continuity. These mysteries are set in Elizabethan times with our amateur sleuth being one of Elizabeth I’s maids of honours. She takes on a range of challenging mysteries sometimes off her own bat, and other times at the behest of the queen herself. To help her solve the various mysteries are her friends, Ellie Bunting the laundry maid and Masou al-Ahmed a tumbler. The titles of the book were working their way through the alphabet (e.g. Assassin, Betrayal etc.) but seems to have stopped at Loot (2010).

  1. The Cat Royal series by Julia Golding

There are seven books in this series which is set mostly in 18th century England, ( though sometimes gets as far as France and Jamaica), and begins in Drury Lane. Not all of the books in this series are conventional mysteries and many fall more into the adventure category, The first book, The Diamond of Drury Lane (2006), is the most mystery orientated involving the disappearance of a diamond. I really enjoyed Golding’s gripping, entertaining and humorous narrative style and you do get very easily attached to her characters.

  1. Traces series by Malcolm Rose

I have only read the first two books in this seven book long series, having read Framed (2005) and Lost Bullet (2005). I don’t tend to enjoy futuristically set novels but this is one of the exceptions. In this alternate England, children go to live in residential schools, rather than be looked after by parents. In such schools they are trained for a certain form of employment and they are also paired with a partner for life. This causes a lot of strife for our protagonist Luke Harding, a forensic investigator, who wants to be with a musician rather than a biologist. Aside from this relationship problem the reader follows Harding as he takes on his first cases at the tender age of 16, cases within which he is sometimes suspected himself.

  1. Bug Muldoon and the Garden (1995) of Fear by Paul Shipton

I may not be a fan of hardboiled or private eye adult crime fiction but I certainly found this private eye novel amusing when I was younger. I should point out that the book is set in the world of insects, with Bug Muldoon being a beetle who is also a private investigator. Shipton’s humorous style definitely appealed to me and this is not a story to take too seriously. Although I do think Shipton’s makes the insect world a convincing and plausible one.

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