Agatha Christie on Screen (2016) by Mark Aldridge

This has been a book I have been dipping into over the past few months and for anyone who is interested in film and TV adaptations of Agatha Christie’s work then this is certainly the book to buy. It covers adaptations as early as 1928 and as late as the BBC’s And Then There Were None adaptation in 2015 and it even has two chapters devoted to non-UK and USA adaptations. In his introduction Aldridge sets out the book’s aims, emphasising how ‘it is principally aimed at those interested in tracing the story of how Agatha Christie’s works made it to film and television.’ He also tells readers that ‘this is not a tome that frequently explores adaptation theory and other areas of academic discussion’ and instead ‘is a celebration of Christie’s impact on film and television… offer[ing] a questioning history of events that have brought Christie’s works to the screen, [and] looking at attitudes towards adaptations from those involved as well as audiences.’ One of the things I definitely enjoyed about this book was how Aldridge looked at how Christie responded to the various adaptations that came and went during her writing career. Extensive research seems to have gone into the book, with plenty of archival material being used to provide information on less well known adaptations. Equally from the start of the book the tension between ‘satisfying the large band of passionate Agatha Christie fans, whose primary requirements were a faithful representation of the original story, and the modern television and film viewers, who simply wish to be entertained’ is brought to the forefront and Aldridge comes back to this issue frequently.

Due to the sheer amount of interesting information given in this book, as well as due to the long list of adaptations explored, I am going to just focus on some of the personal highlights for me. Hopefully this will give you a flavour of what the book is like.

Firstly ruining or rather creatively interpreting Christie’s work is by no means a modern phenomenon as the silent movie of The Passing of Mr Quin (1928), came into being due to a film company trying to fulfil the Cinematograph film Act of 1927, which required companies to make a quota of British made films. Consequently fidelity to the text wasn’t a big priority. Something I particularly enjoyed about the early chapters of Aldridge’s book were the points where he looks at how developments in film making affected the success of creating a Christie adaptation. Aldridge also explores the difficulties in casting a suitable actor for Poirot and he includes Christie’s comments on suggestions given to her, such as after one consultation where she said she ‘much disliked his first suggestion, which was to take about twenty years off Poirot’s age, call him Beau Poirot and have lots girls fall in love with him.’

Aldridge is particularly good at showing the various trends which have happened with Christie adaptations over time, as it intrigued me that in the 1950s it was popular to televise stage productions. Unsurprisingly film and TV companies at this point were more successful in getting Christie to agree on adapting her non-serial works and plays. Though if there is only one thing I take away from this book it is this: There have been an enormous amount of Christie adaptations since the 1920s. However many of them really aren’t good…

Sometimes this is due to the companies trying to fit a large plot into a small time slot, such as in 1952 when They Came to Baghdad got condensed into a 1 hour feature and Aldridge suggests that Victoria is made so irritating that you end up siding with the villains trying to bump her off. Other times it seems companies were more interested in using the Christie name and her characters with plots of their own devising, plots which sadly weren’t up to standard. Whilst some plot or character changes were enforced due to censorship rulings, other changes had been voluntary, many of which sound quite hilarious because they sound rather awful. Here are a few of my favourites:

  • In a pilot episode for The Adventures of Hercule Poirot, in 1962, it was decided that ‘Poirot’s mode of travel’ would also ‘double as his home.’ ‘It is described in documentation as “a limousine which he uses whenever circumstances permit […] a car with a television set, a television, a private bar, and a back seat that turns into a bed.’
  • In Murder Ahoy (1964), the last of the films starring Margaret Rutherford as Miss Marple and using a non-Christie plot, ‘poor Miss Marple [is] dressed up in an admiral’s uniform.’ It was actually quite touching to read Christie’s comments on the Rutherford films, as with this film she said that:

‘I don’t suppose there can be any greater misery for an author than to see their characters completely distorted […] I really feel sick and ashamed of what I did when I signed up with MGM. It was my fault. One does things for money and one is wrong to do so – since one parts with one’s literary integrity.’

Once Rutherford died, Christie did say that although she ‘was a very fine actress’ she ‘was never in the least like Miss Marple.’

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  • In the 1965 version of The Alphabet Murders, which is based on The ABC Murders, Poirot can be seen sporting a polo neck jumper and going bowling.
  • Back to the Rutherford Miss Marple films, in Murder at a Gallop Miss Marple is proposed to.
  • And Then There Were None has been transplanted to various different locations, other than an island. Some seem sensible such as the characters being marooned up a mountain but I am struggling to see how a safari version of the story works.
  • French adaptations have quite openly cut fast and loose with the original Christie stories but I think the weirdest one for me is a 2012 adaptation of the Tommy and Tuppence story, ‘The Case of the Missing Lady.’ In the original story the woman has disappeared voluntarily in order to lose some weight. However the recent French adaptation adds a science fiction element into the mix and includes an egg shaped object which has the power to restore youth. The conclusion of the adaptation leaves Tommy as a baby, who Tuppence has to care for.
  • In contrast Indian adaptations have often been more faithful to the originals, even if they have transplanted the stories from their British settings into Indian ones. Though I think I would find it hard to reconcile a pastiche of Michael Jackson’s Thriller with a Christie mystery, which does occur in one Indian adaptation.
  • Whilst in some respects Russians adaptations have worked quite faithfully with original material, one Miss Marple adaptation does become a bit of an adventure thriller when there is a bomb in her handbag!

Whilst I might not be tracking down these adaptations any time soon Aldridge’s book has Image result for witness for the prosecution 1957pointed out some which I would definitely like to watch. The first of these if Billy Wilder’s adaptation of Witness for the Prosecution. I was also intrigued by the plot for The Spider Web, though unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a strong adaptation of this story. Murder by the Book (1986) is another film Aldridge talks about which has piqued my interest. It is not a conventional adaptation, but features Christie herself, encountering her own creation Poirot, in real life, at the time she was mulling over publishing Curtain. This sort of plot could go very well or very bad, but unfortunately I can’t seem to find a copy of it to find out. An interesting addition to the 1965 version of And Then There Were None was a whodunit break, where the film is paused just before the solution at the end, so the audience can discuss who they think did it. I think this is a feature I would perhaps like to see again, as mysteries do lend themselves to this sort of audience interaction. One adaptation I am not sure about is a Japanese anime one where Miss Marple’s niece, accompanied by her pet duck Oliver, observes either her aunt or Hercule Poirot solve cases. Reading that something in me definitely thinks this sounds awful. But Aldridge seems to suggest that it is actually a well-executed adaptation, which surprisingly stays faithful to the original material. Anyone else watched this?

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Something I admire about this book is how Aldridge does give his opinion on adaptations, but grounds these opinions in textual analyses of why the given adaptation was a success or a failure, taking in a wide array of factors in considering this issue. He also looks at the opinions of those behind the scenes of the adaptations, including figures such as Matthew Prichard and like his mother it is interesting to trace the journey he goes on in regards to his attitudes towards film and TV adaptations. When talking about the 1974 adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express he says that ‘the amazing thing is, if you actually read the script of Orient Express, large parts of it are virtually verbatim [to the original text]. The best ones often are.’ With such a final statement it seems hard to reconcile it with some of the later adaptations which have been allowed. The cynic in me was interested in the fact that as the comments by Pritchard became more and more recent, they did often talk more about the money side of things and shareholders. An unusual example is that Pritchard sold his rights to They Did It With Mirrors to Alan Shayne so he could adapt it, in order to buy an expensive sculpture.

Aldridge frequently includes comments from critics and reviewers, which can be especially useful for earlier adaptations where there is none or little remaining footage. Suffice to say critics are hard to please, but given some of the adaptations you don’t necessarily blame them. I think my favourite put down of the book was by Michael Ratcliffe writing for The Times on the 1980 adaptation of Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? He wrote that it was ‘as crisp and riveting as an old lettuce leaf.’ Though it did surprise me that Partners in Crime (1983-1984) wasn’t well received, as I thought this was the best portrayal of Tommy and Tuppence to date.

A chapter each is devoted to the Miss Marple adaptations starring Joan Hickson and the Poirot adaptations starring David Suchet. These were some of my favourite chapters, as I have watched enough of them to be able to have an opinion on them and be interested in their history. I have to agree with the Glasgow Herald which says that Hickson is ‘the perfect Miss Marple.’ Aldridge’s comment on the choice of setting was also perceptive in my opinion when he writes that the series’ setting ‘unashamedly shows off the best and worst of the past beyond any assumption of cosy nostalgia, especially when it comes to highlighting the darker side of human nature present whatever the period and location. This is a complicated and nuanced world…’ Two other facts I enjoyed learning were firstly that Christie had originally wanted to call Sleeping Murder, Cover Her Face, but changed her mind after P. D. James’ published a novel with that title. Secondly in the Hickson adaptation of A Murder is Announced a red setter has to discover the body of Murgatroyd. Yet the dog was not feeling particularly obedient so they had to put chicken liver paste on Joan Sims who was playing the character, in order to get the dog to play ball (metaphorically speaking). Something I didn’t realise about the Poirot series was that many of the scripts were written by David Renwick who also did the writing for One Foot in the Grave and that there are a couple of occasions where his work on the former influenced the latter.

The only thing which especially irked me in this book was one comment Aldridge makes about Christie purists’ attitudes towards adaptations and remakes. He seems to suggest that adapting Christie’s work with lots of alterations has been happening since the 1920s and therefore ‘Christie fans should not operate under the apprehension that her works have been particularly mistreated – they have not.’ But what particularly got me was that the sentence prior to this one talks of there being ‘a danger that such swingeing changes do Christie a disservice, since casual audiences are not able to see the dividing line between the original work and any later (usually inferior) alteration.’ Furthermore, after telling Christie fans that her work is not being mistreated, he goes onto discuss ITV’s Marple series, in which he catalogues quite an array of defects and negative aspects. Summing up ITV’s Marple he writes that ‘throughout the series the programmes veers from comedy and parody, through to pastiche, occasional melancholy and some outright tastelessness.’ Yet of course we must remember that Christie’s work is not being mistreated even when murderous nuns and Nazi hunters are being added ad hoc into the plots. Personally this attempt to sit on both sides of the fence didn’t really work for me.

I don’t think this is the sort of the book to read in one or two sittings as some chapters, mid-way through the book, come across as more reference book like due to the density of the information. However, these moments are balanced by a substantial amount of interesting and fun facts and anecdotes about certain adaptations. My favourite behind the scenes anecdote comes from the 1974 adaptation of Murder on the Orient Express. John Brabourne who produced the film certainly took a proactive approach to getting Christie’s permission, which can be seen in his initial telephone conversation with Christie:

Christie: ‘Well, I think we’d better have a little chat about it then.’

Brabourne: ‘I’d like that very much, when would be convenient?’

Christie: ‘Well we live forty miles from London […] we could have lunch one day.’

Brabourne: ‘Well, what about now?’

Christie: ‘but we’re forty miles from London and you’re in London.’

Christie: ‘No I’m not […] I’m in the telephone box at the bottom of your garden.’

Therefore I think this is either a book to read chronologically, but over a longer period of time, or a book to jump into at specific points to read up on certain decades or productions.

So overall I would recommend this book. I don’t always agree with some of Aldridges’ views on some adaptations, but on the other hand he has also introduced me to a number of productions I was not aware of and he has also given me a strong need to watch more of Christie’s stage productions. It was great to see behind the scenes of adaptations and to see what went into making them and I have a much greater idea of what the adapting process is like. An added positive of this book is that it is much cheaper than other books from the Crime Files series by Palgrave Macmillan. The only thing I think might have been nice is if, since Aldridge is discussing a visual medium, he included stills or posters from the productions he was talking about.

With many more Christie adaptations on the horizon it feels like a few extra chapters may need to be added in a few years’ time. Whilst I enjoyed the recent And Then There Were None adaptation, I was rather disappointed with the BBC’s Witness for the Prosecution last Christmas. However I am still trying to remain optimistic about the next Christie adaptations coming up and looking forward to seeing how they tackle Death Comes as The End.

Rating: 4.25/5

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Family Matters (1933) by Anthony Rolls

Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item: Tree

Source: Review Copy (British Library)

My first experience with Rolls’ was not the best, but I am definitely glad that I decided to give him another go. The plot of Family Matters showcases Rolls’ talents as a writer much more effectively than Scarweather (1934). The majority of the action of this book takes place in the bizarrely yet wonderfully named Shufflecester. From the bird’s or rather plane’s eye view this town may seem rather ordinary and not very remarkable. Yet over the course of several months this is soon set to change. The story centres on the not so happy household of Robert Arthur Kewdingham, who lives with his wife Bertha, his son Michael and his father. Money is fairly tight for them after Robert was made redundant. The situation is made worse by the fact that Robert is not the easiest person to live with. He is a hypochondriac who frequently administers homemade remedies to himself. His hobbies and political interests take up most of his time and his house. He believes providence will right everything in the finance department and spends more time developing his mystical theories and telling all and sundry about his mystical experiences, much to his wife’s embarrassment. It doesn’t help that some people, in particular Pamela Chaddlewick, (who quite frankly does get on your wick as the book progresses), rather egg him on, in order to spite Bertha and to cause her to lose her temper. Marital discord unsurprisingly ensues.

Bertha leads a rather lonely existence, though her days are sometimes brightened by the visit of the local doctor, Wilson Bagge, who also sees Robert professionally. Our introduction to him immediately rings mystery fan alarm bells, as he is a widowed doctor and there are rumours that he caused the early demise of his wife. He also has his own dispensary and is showing a great deal of interest in Bertha. Since this book is more in the Iles Francis’ vein, reader suspicions are confirmed to an extent – we know that he likes to use his patients as unwitting guinea pigs, getting them to try new and not so safe medicinal concoctions.

Bertha also garners interest from her husband’s cousin, John Harrigall, an interest which soon fuels jealousy on Robert’s part. As the novel progresses events come to pass that seemingly force or tempt several characters into plotting Robert’s demise. Poison is the weapon of choice. Yet as this story’s shows poisoning is a lot harder than it looks. This is a deceptive novel in that we the readers are given so much more knowledge than the characters themselves, but like them are still shocked and surprised by how events ultimately turn out.

Overall Thoughts

A couple of issues I had with Scarweather were with its pacing and its’ too obvious solution. Both of these issues thankfully are not present in this earlier novel. There is a lot of narrative threads, character developments and surprises to keep the reader occupied and I think Rolls’ creates much more mystery over where the story is going and how it will end.

Moreover, because these two problems weren’t visible I was more able to appreciate Rolls’ enjoyable writing style which is filled with well-crafted phrases that often reveal something of the characters. One of my favourite examples is when Pamela Chaddlewick is causing mischief as usual and Bertha becomes determined that she will not be ‘humiliated by a little fluffy puppet.’ There is also an interesting description of Dr Wilson Bagge where it is said that, ‘when you saw the quick dancing flash in his eyes, the sudden electric flicker of something wild and incalculable, something active though controlled, you wondered if he was altogether trustworthy.’

I enjoyed how this novel unfolds over a long time period, as it shows how small acts of spite and malice snowball into much bigger acts, meaning that a domestic drama ultimately becomes a criminal one. Rolls’ writing style lends itself to a crime novel which focuses predominately on character psychology, as we are able to see what small and often happenchance factors go into someone deciding to kill someone else. He also creates an effective atmosphere of moral ambiguity, as he shifts reader sympathies from one character to another. The ending as well as being full of surprises, interested me for its unsettling nature, leaving the reader with a few tantalising questions.

Bertha, who is half French and possibly also half Canadian (her father came from Quebec), was a character who interested me a lot, in how she develops as a character, but also with how the other characters perceive. Due to her “foreigner” status in the community and the fragmentation of her mind, as it gets harder and harder to live with Robert, it was hard not to think of fiction’s probably most famous Bertha, from Jane Eyre (who is also the focus of Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea). Phrases such as ‘you will drive me mad’ and ‘you have to be treated like a child’ added to this parallel, with both women’s marriages being far from ideal and their foreign statuses often used being against them. At times Rolls’ gives us access to Bertha’s thoughts and I noticed that her thoughts of poisoning her husband are often given in a fragmented manner, which could be interpreted as a form of madness:

‘poison – poison – poison. The word kept on drumming deeply in her mind like the beat of the bass in a fugue; or like the pulse, the rhythm of some infernal engine. Poison – poison – poison.’

Equally, whilst Rolls’ Bertha is not locked in a tower like Bronte’s is, her home does become a form of prison to her, as she describes it as a ‘cage.’ Reading Rolls’ novel it is not surprising that Bertha is under a great deal of strain having to work around or confront Robert’s increasingly delusional ideas. Bertha explains to John how having to live in a world of illusion is hard, saying that: ‘I want to get away from all this damnable pretence. It is choking me. I do want something real.’ I’m not saying Rolls’ created his Bertha in light of Bronte’s, but it was an interesting parallel for me nonetheless, due to the similarities and connections.

So if you are thinking of trying Anthony Rolls’ work I would definitely recommend you start with this one. Fans of Iles Francis’ and C. S. Forrester’s work will find a similar enjoyable and ironic style in this story. And if you are still not convinced then Dorothy L Sayers herself no less gave this book the thumbs up saying that it:

‘exploited to the full this well-known tendency of families to expunge their less desirable members and has produced one of the best books of its kind that have appeared for some time.’

Rating: 4.5/5

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Agatha Christie Spot the Difference

Ever keen to try something new on the blog I have had a go at making a spot the difference challenge, using the cover designed by Tom Adams for Dead Man’s Folly. The differences might be additions, omissions or alterations. Since this is my first go at doing this for a blog format I’d be happy to hear user feedback, as it would be good to know whether the pictures are big enough for example, for the differences to be noticed. If you fancy giving it a go put your answers in the comments section below, describing the changes you have noted e.g. Dog is missing from bottom right hand corner. There are 15 differences to spot. The original cover is the one on the left hand side and the one on the right side is the altered copy. I’ll post a picture next week highlighting the differences. Enjoy!

 

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Busman’s Honeymoon (1937) by Dorothy L Sayers

This is my second entry for Rich’s monthly Crimes of the Century challenge, which he hosts at his blog Past Offences. This is a book I have been keen to re-read since last month when I talked about it for the Tuesday Night Bloggers’ theme of Love and Murder. I couldn’t remember much about it, except that I remembered loving it and was therefore surprised when others didn’t seem quite so keen on it. Due to my very vague memories I did begin to wonder whether I was remembering it through rose tinted spectacles, as at the time I originally read it I hadn’t read many other golden age detective fiction writers.

For those who have equally hazy memories like mine the book begins with Harriet and Peter’s wedding and they plan to have their honeymoon at a house called Talboys, which is situated near to where Harriet lived when she was a girl. However when they arrive things do not go to plan, culminating in the discovery of the previous occupant, Noakes, dead on the cellar stairs. His death unsurprisingly is murder. Noakes was far from popular, having a grasping way with money and not above swindling his nearest and not so dearest, as well as his employees. His death further reveals the financial straits he was in. It truly is a busman’s honeymoon for Peter and Harriet.

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Overall Thoughts

The subtitle for this novel; ‘a love story with detective interruptions,’ indicates in a way this novel’s intention of pushing the mystery novel to its limits. For some, Sayers pushes the genre too far, yet when this book was published many reviewers didn’t seem to have a problem with this, with the Times Literary Supplement writing, ‘this, then, as a love story and a detective story, and much besides, is the Sayers mixture as never so successfully before.’ Whilst Country Life wrote that ‘the detection […] is a flawless piece of work and The Times also points to Sayers bringing ‘her usual ingenuity to bear on the important problem of how the murder was committed.’ And having now re-read the book I do think this latter comment is fair as the how of this crime is unusual, yet its mechanism is hinted at by degrees in the book.

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It was also great to re-read the address in the foreword by Sayers as I had completely forgotten it was included. The address thanks those who supported Sayers through the writing process and alludes to how the novel was the consequence of a play she wrote with Muriel St Clare Byrne. I love the part where Sayers writes that:

‘It has been said, by myself and others, that a love-interest is only an intrusion upon a detective story. But to the characters involved, the detective-interest might well seem an irritating intrusion upon their love-story. This book deals with such a situation.’

Her way of reframing the focus of the novel, having the detective element as the intrusion, shows the journey her mystery writing had taken her on, as a decade earlier her views were decidedly different. This reframing also allows for a more naturalistic response from Peter and Harriet towards the ensuing investigation into Noakes’ death and I think this gave the story a much less artificial quality.

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One of the reasons why I have enjoyed Sayers work so much is because of her writing style and her turn of phrase, which can often bring a smile to my lips. Some of my favourite lines from this story, which I think earned such a title through their bizarreness include lines such as: ‘If the young woman has brains and bowels, she will suit well enough’ and ‘his thoughts revolving silently in this squirrel-cage of mystification.’ The Dowager Duchess who is definitely a fictional character you wished really existed also offers a number of funny phrases, such as when she is talking about her son, Peter: ‘he’s just as vain and foolish as most men and not a chameleon to smell any sweeter for being trodden on. On consideration, think I meant ‘camomile.’’ At times I do have to admit that Sayers is a little uncomfortable about describing this next stage of Peter and Harriet’s relationship, when passions and feelings are more demonstrable, but in the main I just found these instances quite amusing really, such as when Harriet finds Peter’s spine ‘enslaving’.

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The strength of her writing style also comes across in the strong opening of Busman’s Honeymoon, as the first 30 or so pages are in an epistolary or diary format. This allows the reader to get quite a number of different perspectives on Harriet and Peter’s wedding, as well as on how they are viewed as individuals. It was quite surprising to find one character call Peter the ‘chilliest prig’ and like ‘a chattering icicle in an eyeglass.’ This opening style seemed to me to be like a foretaste of The Wimsey Papers, which Sayers would go on to write in The Spectator two years later. The idea of the detective plot intruding into the narrative also begins in these introductory pages, as Bunter’s letter hints at something having gone wrong, yet is cut off, leaving the details to be given later on.

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Being a fan of the Harriet and Peter relationship this book is probably special for me, simply because it answers that age old question for novel readers: What happened once they got married?, as so often books end at the alter and go no further. I definitely feel that Sayers captures the daunting nature of starting out in a marriage or a relationship effectively and the way it can leave your vulnerabilities more exposed. Sayers doesn’t make their relationship have a fairy tale like perfection, there are issues for Peter and Harriet to work through. A key issue for Sayers to resolve in this book is the power balance between her protagonists and there are moments where it does feel like Harriet is in a weaker or lower position. There is even a moment where Peter feels resentful towards her because she pulled him up on his jokey response to chicken killing, though I think this moment recoils back on Peter when he later has to face the fact that his investigative work will lead to a murderer being hung. It is at this point that Harriet gains a stronger position and has to support Peter whilst he goes through inner turmoil. But I think most of the teething problems in their relationship revolve around the fact they are embroiled in a murder investigation, as Peter is used to acting without consideration to others, an approach he now needs to alter. Yet on the whole I think these two work out their issues in quite a mature way and Harriet is against using feminine wiles and ‘matrimonial blackmail’ to get what she wants.

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Re-reading this book also meant that I noticed this time round that there is a definite tension between beginning a new era and holding on to the past. In some ways Peter and Harriet’s marriage is symbolic of a new era, a merging of social classes and breaking from tradition. Yet a few days into being married to Peter, Harriet sees in him how comfortably he fits into a rural and older way of life. It is said that Harriet:

‘understood now why it was that with all his masquing attitudes, all his cosmopolitan self-adaptations, all his spiritual reticences and escapes, he yet carried about with him that permanent atmosphere of security. He belonged to an ordered society, and this was it. More than any of the friends in her own world, he spoke the familiar language of childhood. In London, anybody, at any moment, might do or become anything. But in a village – no matter what village – they were all immutably themselves […] moving like chessmen upon their allotted squares’

Here Harriet seems to be reinforcing the image of the more traditional and predictable small village community, an image which was to change in the next few years, with mystery novels such as A Murder is Announced (1950), revealing that villagers were rapidly knowing less and less about their neighbours. Furthermore, there are some hints later on in Sayers’ novel which suggest that Harriet’s static image is already beginning to change, as it is mentioned that the most recent local squire is more of a weekender, who spends far more time in London and therefore is not hugely involved in local life. But for now, at any rate, in Peter, Harriet can find this older way of life, which she sums up in the line: ‘I have married England.’

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I do admit so far I have definitely given more attention to the romance side of the novel, but fear not dear readers, (who are probably wondering whether this is still a mystery fiction blog), I am now going to talk about the detective work. Something which really stood out for me was how this murder investigation is treated much more seriously and the crime itself is not shown to be a light-hearted matter. There are some comic moments where Harriet and Peter play around with motives and there is nice parodying of Holmes deductions, but on the whole both these characters realise the gravity of the situation. We really get to feel the psychological impact of being involved in a murder case. Peter may say lines such as ‘whoever suffers, we must have the truth. Nothing else matters a damn,’ but nonetheless the destruction his actions cause take their toll on him. This book does not end when the killer is revealed, but continues further on and shows that the case does not end at that moment. It really interests me that Sayers does not end at the conventional moment of triumph, but instead shows this case to be a hard won victory and a victory which, albeit temporarily, breaks Peter. This was a brave decision on Sayers part, to have the final Wimsey novel end on such a troubling note. But I can’t help but admire it. I liked how in this mystery the how of the crime and the timings involved, in relation to witness testimony, are stressed as being more important than the motive, with Harriet and Peter proving this point by showing how easy it is to come up with motives for people.

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So all in all I do have to admit that this book is perhaps a little overlong and the extended passages in French were rather beyond what I learnt at GCSE. It does not hold the perfection I once thought of it. Giving it 5/5 would rather smack of fandom blindness. However, that does not mean I did not enjoy it or would not read it again. There were many things I loved about it. I think Sayers does a cracking job at creating a lot of interest out of a relatively small amount of material, using a blocked chimney scenario to explore character personalities, as well as provide comedy and action. Bunter definitely deserves a mention as well, as I am sure we all want someone like him to help us organise our lives, always remembering the things we’ve forgotten about. Though it was also funny seeing Bunter lose his rag for the first time, over Mrs Ruddle upsetting the port. Couldn’t help but smile at this moment. This story is a delightful mixture of comedy and tragedy, thwarted and fulfilled love and light and dark and it is a shame that Sayers stopped writing Wimsey novels at this point. We can only guess what she could have gone on to do next, as in some ways the Peter and Harriet’s story isn’t quite finished yet in this book. I know Sayers would do some short stories later featuring them again and their children and of course there are the Jill Paton Walsh books (which I did enjoy on the whole when I originally read them), but it’s just not the same is it.

Rating: 4.25/5

See also: Check out Les Blatt’s thoughts on this novel at Classic Mysteries.

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Tenant for Death (1937) by Cyril Hare

Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item: Shadowy Figure

Image result for tenant for death cyril hare harper perennial

Rich at his blog Past Offences runs a monthly Crimes of the Century Challenge and this month’s chosen year is 1937, so I decided to review Cyril Hare’s first Inspector Mallett novel, Tenant for Death (1937). The opening chapters in this story, in contrast to my previous read, offer the reader a lot of plot threads and characters to grasp a hold of. We have a newspaper vendor noticing the unusual fact of local resident, Colin James, bringing a guest home for the first time since he began his tenancy. It is through the newspaper vendor that we also see James abruptly leave his property some time later, making even the most casual of mystery readers prick their ears up. We also have the disappearance of the financier Lionel Ballantine, whose business is soon to go under due to malpractice. There is also his nervy and edgy secretary Hector Du Pine, yet he is far from being a put upon or weak underling. There is a feeling of something distinctly sinister about him. A blast from Ballantine’s past also appears early on in the story, with John Fanshawe having been recently released from jail for fraud, a fraud which caused extensive ruin to many, all except Ballantine who may well have been involved. Young love also has its place in the opening sequence, with Susan and Frank wondering when they will have enough money to marry on. Frank hints a solution to their problems will arrive soon, though Susan can elicit no further information on how this money will be obtained. All of these threads combine when the Ballantine’s body is found in James’ home. With James’ no longer in residence, he is Inspector Mallett’s prime suspect and Hare creates a great deal of pleasing mystification over this character, as well as with others involved in the case, such as Frank, who unsurprisingly are all acting suspiciously one way or another. However Inspector Mallett is no infallible sleuth and events as the end of the story comes near do fall out of his grasp and control.

This is a mystery with a well-crafted and complex puzzle, which I think will give readers plenty of clues to get their teeth into, with new information giving further food for thought. Clues start very early on and there were quite a few that passed me by. There is a steady trickle of surprising event and information which helps maintain the pace on the whole. There is perhaps a slight reliance on a last minute piece of information, in order to get the reader thinking in the right direction and getting the case to draw to a close, but I think subsequent evidence which refers back to much earlier clues, means this didn’t feel like a swizz.

By and large Hare’s characterisation is strong and well executed. Even characters with small parts are memorable and nuanced. You get a real sense of who they are and I enjoyed following Inspector Mallett’s investigation. In later novels Mallett works with an amateur sleuth named Francis Pettigrew, but in this one I actually rather liked not having Pettigrew’s presence. In some ways I think it freed Mallett up and gave him more of the limelight. Equally the absence of Pettigrew meant there wasn’t any legal twist in this mystery. Hare uses the trope of the murdered financier to good effect in this story and he recreates the various milieus involved in his book effectively, making them seem real and distinct from one another. The ending wasn’t quite what I predicted and I think it was a little rushed, though it did show Inspector Mallett in a different light. In particular one character’s response to a dramatic event seemed oddly cool to say the least and didn’t really fit. I think if the ending had been a few pages longer these little inconsistencies could have been ironed out.

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Despite being a novel published near the end of the 1930s, there isn’t any mention of Fascism or any fears of an impending war with Germany. Communism makes a brief foray into the novel in the form of comic skit between a lorry driver and one of the suspects. However, through a rather reactionary character, comments are made on India and in particular on Mahatma Gandhi who the character believes is ‘the biggest enemy our Indian Empire has got.’ Suffice to say he isn’t impressed that his daughter has named her dog after him.

So all in all I think this was a strong first outing for Hare, balancing plot and character needs and due to the lack of legal twists, this is a mystery I think readers will feel they have more of a chance of solving. Hare has an entertaining writing style and he is mostly good when it comes to pacing in the story. In several respects I think Hare’s mystery will keep readers guessing until the end.

Rating: 4.25/5

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All aboard for murder in Sebastian Japrisot’s The Sleeping-Car Murders (1962)

This is my latest foray into translated crime fiction, trying out an author new to me. The Sleeping-Car Murders (1962) was also adapted for film three years after it was published. Within a couple of pages we have our first corpse, that of divorcee Georgette Thomas, who is found strangled, oddly enough in a sleeping car of a train, which has just pulled into Paris. Corpses on trains was already a well-established trope in mystery fiction by this point, from Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express (1934) and The Mystery of the Blue Train (1928), to Josephine Tey’s The Singing Sands (1952), Miles Burton’s Death in a Tunnel (1936), M. M. Kaye’s Death in Berlin (1955) and Todd Downings’ Murder on Tour (1933). Though in fact I think Japrisot owes a debt to a completely different Christie novels. Hopefully those who have already read this book will know which Christie book I am referring to.

What I think makes Japrisot’s novel stand out though, is the fact that the train passengers are not separate compartments and the murdered woman is found within a compartment which held 5 other berths. It is assumed that her death took place soon after the train arrived in Paris and that one of the other five passengers did the deed. Though the police investigation, run by Grazzi also looks into the life of Georgette, given the number of lovers she had. However, once the names of the other passengers comes available the narrative switches its attention to them for a time and in fact our first impressions of the victim come from one of these passengers, Rene Cabourg. Japrisot adopts a narrative style which is reminiscent of stream of consciousness and free indirect discourse which means we quickly get into the minds of the characters, especially the other train passengers. Cabourg has conflicting emotions towards Georgette, having been attracted to her yet rebuffed. Amid a clear case of man flu he offers information to the police, yet conceals an argument he has from her. With such an unusual narrative style the reader soon begins to wonder how reliable our narrators are. I didn’t hugely take to Cabourg. Yet this is not a big issue for one good reason. Within pages of meeting him he too dies, a bullet to the neck and he is gone, an incident the reader knows about much earlier than the police.

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However, the police have more than enough to contend with, as other passengers they have tracked down also begin to die off, after being initially interviewed. Are they being silenced? There is also the issue of the mysterious passenger over which there seems to be much confusion. Was it a man or a woman? The passengers while they are still alive are often not very forthcoming with information. But we soon realise this is not due to criminal secrets but due to embarrassment, wanting to avoid revealing too much of themselves and their secret shames – a psychological component which strengthens the novel. As the bodies come thick and fast two of the remaining passengers attempt to solve the case themselves – an element which only emerges in the final third of the novel and in my opinion is the weakest element, as this part of the story does have some pacing issues.

I enjoyed how we received information via the suspects’ thoughts as well as via police interviews. The former often helped to maintain pace until the final third where suspect thoughts slowed things down. One of the surprises in the solution I saw coming, but another one definitely took me completely by the surprise. In some ways it felt quite realistic, but on the other hand I think the reader could have been more prepared for the motivations behind the crimes. My biggest niggle though is with the ending of the novel, which rather irked me, taking abruptness to a whole new level. However on a more positive I enjoyed the opening of the book a lot. We know to expect a body but Japrisot still manages to make it feel like a surprise, inserting a blunt line informing us of the body, immediately after a train employee’s reverie over his last stay in Nice.

The narrative style is definitely one of the things which makes this book striking. I have already commented on some of its features already, but in the beginning I noticed that in the opening pages of the story there was a negation of names. Characters are referred to by gender or job title. Something like this could easily become confusing, yet this is not the case here and instead gives a sense of anonymity to the characters involved, all the while still making them feel distinctive. In a way it was quite nice to not be immediately bombarded by a lot of character names in the opening chapter. I did also notice a negation of speech marks in the first part of the book. Not sure if this was an intentional part of the narrative style or not, as such punctuation does appear later in the book. The sense of time in this tale is also quite flexible when it comes to the passengers’ thoughts, as their thoughts often flow between past and present events. I think this worked quite well, though it certainly keeps you on your toes! So all in all I think this was a good read, entertaining and making a change from my usual GAD reads.

Rating: 4/5

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Dr Priestley Investigates (1930) by John Rhode

Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item: Hangman’s Noose

Also known under its British title Pinehurst, Rhode’s novel has garnered quite a handful of positive reviews over time. Bookman likened the serial sleuth Dr Priestley to ‘Sherlock Holmes’, whilst Will Cuppy (whoever he is) thought this story was an ‘ingenious’ tale, as did the Saturday Review of Literature, who also said that ‘Dr Priestley’s ratiocinations are a joy to follow.’ Having now read the book in question, I am wondering if I was reading the same book. Suffice to say like the Puzzle Doctor at In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel blog I did not hugely enjoy this book.

To be fair to Rhode the story does start out quite well. One rainy November evening, Thomas Awdrey is pulled in for drunken driving in Lenhaven. It is only on further examination of the vehicle that the police realise that the very drunk Awdrey has a passenger, who is decidedly extinct of life. A more thorough examination leads to the conclusion that Awdrey had run the man over and in his intoxicated state put him in the car to get help; a theory Awdrey demonstrably denies, when he’s sober and takes some convincing that he even had a dead man in his car. He firmly believes that he only had a stone bust in his car, which he was taking to a friend. It’s just a pity that it is no longer there and in fact is later found in the friend’s house. With such a shoddy explanation for events he is soon arrested for manslaughter.

Despite this being such a seemingly open and shut case, the police’s attention is drawn to the victim, Mr Coningsworth’s home, Pinehurst and its remaining residents. There is much to make a mystery reader suspicious, from the outlandish way the Coningsworths took over the home to Mr Coningsworth’s obsessive fear of being burgled. Though in this latter respect his fear might have been justified, as burglary does occur. But why would someone steal some brass door fittings? With such an odd set of circumstances it is lucky that this case is mentioned to Dr Priestley who immediately decides to get involved.

Yet unfortunately despite this intriguing initial setup the book failed to grab my interest. The murder method may have been bizarre and unusual, but it equally felt highly unnecessary. Furthermore, Dr Priestley is too much of a speculating sleuth for my liking. His theories seem to come out of nowhere, latching on to parts of the solution inexplicably. Though having said that I did figure out quite a few parts of the ultimate solution, including what I presume was its main surprise. Like the Puzzle Doctor I also didn’t appreciate the extensive backstory. It made the solution fit together in terms of motivations, but it was overly long, highly fantastical and it did feel like a lazy way of getting your solution to come together. Criminal blundering and confession are also other tools which appear a bit too much in this story. A slightly dry writing style I could have coped with, but even when writing about events which should have been dramatic and exciting, Rhode didn’t really engage my attention much. Characterisation was also a bit too minimal, considering the odd personalities involved. However I must say I was impressed by Awdrey’s ability to consume large amounts of alcohol in relatively short spaces of time, thinking nothing of drinking ‘three or four double whiskies, to keep the cold out’ in 15 minutes. The opening pages of this book could make for a very lethal drinking game.

Rating: 3/5

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Dorothy L Sayers’ Quiz Answers

Last Friday I posed an unusual quiz based around Sayers’ opinions on various writers and their works, not all of which were that complimentary. To have a go at the quiz click here. To find out the answers read on.

1. Thankfully Sayers was a fan of Christie’s sleuth Poirot (Answer: L), finding him to be of ‘bounding vitality’ and a ‘charmer’.

2. For ‘flesh creep[ing]’ prose Sayers recommended turning to the work of Carter Dickson (Answer: G).

3. It was poor Milward Kennedy’s novel, Poison in the Parish (Answer: A) which Sayers deemd to be ‘the primmest and quietist murder tale ever written.’ Though it seems she was often not very complimetary about his work.

4. Nor was Sayers a big fan of S. S. Van Dine’s serial sleuth, Philo Vance (Answer: F), hoping that some criminal would bump him off.

5. It was Ellery Queen’s writing style (Answer: D), which came under criticism by Sayers in this question.

6. Equally one does feel quite sorry for Henry Wade (Answer: E), as his Sayers was far from favourable about his ability to ‘depict sexual passion.’ This quote came from Sayers’ review of Mist on the Saltings (1933).

7. The Chinese Orange Mystery (Answer: K) had for Sayers a murderer who took ‘the absolute bun’ when it came to ‘perverted ingenuity’.

8. It was John Rhode (Answer: B) who Sayers thought would try out ingenuious murder methods on his dog.

9. Perry Mason (Answer: J) was the criminal laywer Sayers liked despite finding him ‘odd’.

10. The Blind Barber (Answer: H) was the book Sayers described as ‘gorgeous’.

11. In slightly more polite tones Sayers was also critical of R Austin Freeman’s (Answer: C) ability to depict romance in his stories.

12. Who knew books could be likened tocaviare? Well according to Sayers they can and it was King’s Obelists En Route (Answer: i) which gained this foody epitaph.

 

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With a Bare Bodkin (1946) by Cyril Hare

Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item: Telephone

With a Bare Bodkin (1946) is a wartime set mystery, with Francis Pettigrew leaving his chambers to work as a legal advisor for Pin Control in Marsett Bay. Whilst at Marsett Bay, Pettigrew is staying at the Fernlea Residential Club, which is populated by many other Pin Control employees, one of whom called Wood, is revealed to be a mystery writer. To remedy the fact that only Pettigrew has read any of his work and to get around the issue of none of his books being easy to get a hold due to war time paper shortages, the merry widow, Mrs Hopkinson, suggests that he write a mystery novel based on them and set his murder at Pin Control. They soon decide on a victim, the head of Pin Control, but it gets more difficult to decide on who the killer should be. Eventually the elderly and dotty Honoria Danville is chosen, as Wood thinks her religious beliefs would create a good motivator for committing a murder. Of course being very adverse to this exercise in the first place means that no one tells her fictional designated role, a secret which also leads to division within the club.

The reader will not be surprised that real murder inevitably occurs. However, Hare does spend some time looking at the events prior to this moment of violence. We see various members of the Fernlea Residential Club working on their fictional murder plot, organising alibis and working out in exact detail how the murder should happen in their workplace. We see the formation of a relationship between Tom Phillip and Eleanor Brown, a relationship which Pettigrew is far from sanguine about, but what mystery lover would be when they hear that Brown is taking out life insurance at widowed Phillip’s instigation? An old friend of Pettigrew’s also arrives at Pin Control, Inspector Mallet, who is looking into the leaking of industrial and governmental secrets and is also trying to find evidence of unlawful trading. The murder when it does occur is surprising and leaves the field of suspects wide open. Did the victim know too much about the criminal activity Mallet was investigating? Or perhaps the fictional murder plot which many of the suspects were working on became a smoke screen for someone’s very real and murderous designs?

Overall Thoughts

This was definitely a much stronger read from Hare, than my last Pettigrew read, When the Wind Blows (1949). Granted you would still need to know some aspects of the law to fully solve the case, but I think most readers can probably roughly figure out who did it, even if they can’t fully explain the why. Well I say most readers, I mean this reader. For all I know everyone else’s knowledge of the law could be far superior to mine. But specialist knowledge is definitely something that crops up a lot in Hare’s work, where a legal point is at the centre of the crime, as in the novel, Tragedy at Law (1942) and An English Murder (1951).

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Hare’s choice of setting in this book is one of its main strengths, as his involvement of the war makes for an interesting workplace mystery. The references to the war begin a little obliquely such as when the narrative talks about the loss of the buildings near Pettigrew’s chambers:

‘Two months previously one high explosive bomb and a handful of incendiaries had opened up the vista by removing the red brick wall and the two blocks of buildings beyond it.’

The war also means that the employees at Pin Control come from far and wide, which means that people have to accept the information people offer about themselves. As we see in this book it is not always the full truth. Furthermore it also interested me that one of the reasons why Danville disagrees with the group making up a murder plot is because ‘so many men and women are being sacrificed all over the world,’ as it did get me to thinking about the role of mystery novels during the war. With so much violence going on why would or should people read about more violence for pleasure? I think one of my immediate thoughts to this query was that in a world where violence cannot be easily controlled, a reassurance found in the mystery novel is that the murderer will be the caught, the violence will be avenged. Of course there are exceptions to this rule but in the main it does hold true for many books published at that time.

On the whole this was a good read. Hare weaves in his metafictional narrative strand well, with the murder plot created by the group generating gentle humour and also complicating the real murder. The characterisation is mostly strong and Hare is good at masking the real intentions of his characters. The only two qualms with the characters was firstly Miss Danville. She felt too much of a stereotypical mad religious spinster, which showed up more because of the other more well drawn characters. Secondly although Eleanor Brown is an interesting character, I think she was left a bit too mysterious. I guess this was because of events which happen later in the book. But the problem is that because we don’t really get inside her head the later events are a bit hard to fully believe and take on board. However Hare gives us a well-constructed mystery and his use of setting is refreshing, as although it is your commonly used closed set mystery, the more unusual workplace setting makes it feel more different.

There are a few elements thrown in at the end of the book, in an afterthought kind of a fashion, but I don’t think these have a detrimental effect on reader enjoyment. The length of the book is just about right for the plot size, as I think if Hare had written much more the pace would have begun to have suffered. I wouldn’t say this was my favourite Cyril Hare novel, that would Suicide Excepted (1939), but this was definitely an entertaining read and would not be a bad place to start if you are new to the author.

Rating: 4.25/5

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The Body on Page One (1951) by Delano Ames

Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item: Any other piece of furniture

A reoccurring whinge of mine for the past year or so has been over how expensive it is to get a hold of this book. At last though I finally got in luck and managed to get a copy which didn’t feel like day light robbery or in fact require a robbery to pay for it. This copy also had its original dustjacket and it was interesting to see the different review snippets. John O’ London’s Weekly said the book had ‘plenty of lively and unusual characters, a satisfying mystery, and enough humour to cheer up even the wettest day of a holiday,’ whilst Punch succinctly said it was ‘really funny and really puzzling.’ A slightly longer quote from the Glasgow Herald categorises Ames’ work as ‘“thrillers” which are in a class by themselves’ and goes on to say that ‘in addition to a good mystery, always cleverly solved, [… Ames’ work has] wit, and the kind of humour that compels the reader to laugh out loud.’ Finally the Daily Telegraph reviewer said ‘I am very attached to Dagobert and Jane Brown’ – a sentiment I certainly endorse.

The Body on Page One (1951) begins with Jane and Dagobert Brown selling off their furniture in preparation for more living on the road and travelling. At Dagobert’s instigation the pair of them plot fictional murders for their neighbours who live in the other flats, in particular Jack Nicholson and his son, Apollinaire, who are not easy neighbours to get along with at times. Late night parties and incidences involving the fire brigade feed into this difficulty and now Jack seems to be entering their flat and damaging the furniture. Jane’s mind doesn’t stay on this bizarre behaviour for long as it seems Dagobert has been receiving love letters. He claims to not know who ‘Lilith’ is, but Jane is still less than impressed, given the less than glowing references made to her in these epistles. There is also the issue of the last tenant that Jane and Dagobert sublet their flat to, who has neither paid the bills nor returned the flat key. With all of these unusual circumstances bubbling beneath the surface, a leaving party is held for the Browns in the Nicholson flat, which is mostly attended by other flat owners, but also a couple of outsiders. Whilst little happened at the party itself much had been going on in the rest of the building, including murder and then what the police assumed was suicide. Ames carefully chooses his corpses and alibis are thin on the ground for the rest of the party guests. Although the police are satisfied by the case, the Browns gradually become convinced that the true solution has not been hit upon and wonder how the other odd circumstances prior to the deaths fit in. In a thriller like way I suppose they come across more and more evidence, as more and more becomes disclosed about the party guests and their relationships to each other. As the Browns had mostly been travelling the last few years their knowledge of their neighbours is slim to say the least and Ames hides a plethora of secrets behind respectable façades.

Overall Thoughts

The novel starts really well and shows the advantage of having a crime writer as a narrator, namely that the actual writer can work in a lot of metafictional humour, which is what happens here. Jane starts the story by writing: ‘I have always wanted to write one of those books with a body on the first page’ and it seems like her wish is granted when she arrives home. This moment of shock and terror, of finding Jack Nicholson sprawled on her sofa with a knife in his hand, is overturned and the tension dropped when we realise that he is only pretending to be dead. For such a joke we’re not surprised that Jane would happily plan Jack’s real death. Jane’s role as a writer of mysteries, mysteries based on cases she and her husband have been involved in, also helps the pair to look at the deaths in a more detached way, though this perspective is not held throughout. There is also an amusing moment at the leaving party when Jane is talking to another guest. She writes that, ‘I told him, and we chatted animatedly for several minutes about the creative writer’s place in modern society, handicapped only by the fact that he had decided I was Dorothy Sayers.’ A comparison made humorous by its sheer inappropriateness in terms of both authors’ writing styles, though it is fair to say that both are strong portrayers of characters.

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Whilst I wouldn’t say there is as much laugh out loud humour in this book as there has been in previous novels in the series, this story is still relatively light hearted, with a lot of the comedy resting on Jane and Dagobert’s relationship. At several points in the story both of them happen upon an important piece of information, though amusingly Jane arrives at these pieces much more easily, with characters confiding in her, whilst in comparison Dagobert works away secretly by himself, putting in a lot more effort and strain to achieve the same goal. I think this sort of outcome balances out Dagobert’s tendency to sleuth by himself. A mild spot of marital jealousy features in this story, fuelling some of the investigative work and surprisingly also creates a greater degree of psychological complexity in the book. It also more importantly, for us humour enthusiasts, gives Jane a prime opportunity for some dry humour. Another source of humour can be found in the child Appollinaire, who reminded me of Bertie from Alexander McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street series, as Appolinaire is ‘alleged to be seven, though Dagobert had a theory that he was really a dwarf, and in his late sixties.’ A lot of Appolinaire’s humour comes from the way he appropriates more grown up words and tones, intermixed with the usual antics of a seven year old.

One thing which has always beguiled me with the Browns is their carefree and transitory lifestyle, which Jane refers to when she writes that ‘in principle Dagobert and I live in Flat C on the ground floor. In practice we live in suit cases and sub-let to men who disappear suddenly without paying the telephone bill.’ And for me this sort of lifestyle is not something we often see in other fictional sleuthing couple contemporary to them. However, I think Jane does reveal some misgivings about this lifestyle in the story, such as when she talks about them having to give up their cat, Grippeminaud:

‘We shall, I suppose, have to leave Grippeminaud behind us with the other household gods we are so ruthlessly disposing of. This is sad, but the kind of thing which happens to people who marry Dagobert…’

On Jane’s part at least there is a certain amount of sacrifice involved in going along with Dagobert’s schemes. Thankfully there are lots of things she also enjoys about travelling a lot.

Looking at the remaining characters I would certainly agree with the reviewer in John O’ London’s Weekly, as Ames does provide an excellent range of ‘lively’ and ‘unusual’ characters, who are psychologically complex and not all that they initially seem to be. Yet this complexity is not forced onto us or allowed to hold up the plot and I like how this complexity is revealed to us gradually, without lots of long passages involving their individual backstories. Furthermore, the secrets they hold are often surprising but also largely believable.

Although mostly a light hearted novel I think that this story has a darker and more emotive quality to it, especially nearer the end, where the pain of various characters is strongly palpable. Interestingly an editor Jane wanted to work for told her, her work needed to contain more love interest, yet in this story she suggests that the love interest does not need to be a romantic one and that intense feelings of love can be found from other sources, which was an idea that rather appealed to me. Again I think this adds to the more emotional revealing of the solution, though Ames being Ames does lighten the mood in the last couple of pages. Ames choice of criminal is a clever one, carefully hidden underneath the mad antics of the amateur sleuths and suspects. My only niggle with the book is that I think the solution could have been a bit more substantiated, though I guess this is more in keeping with the thriller slant to the book. It is not an out and out thriller by any stretch of the imagination, but the reactive approach the Browns often take to sleuthing gives it a thriller feel at times.

Thankfully Murder, Maestro, Please (1952), book number 6 in this series is not too hard to get a hold of so there won’t be any whinging by me on that front. That I will save for No Mourning for the Matador (1953), book number 7, which at the moment seems even harder to get a hold of than The Body on Page One.

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Rating: 4.25/5

See also:

Death of a Fellow Traveller (1950)

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