Tuesday Night Bloggers: Favourite Sleuthing Couples

This week I decided to look at sleuthing couples in crime fiction, as part of this month’s Tuesday Night Blogger theme, love. I think for most readers many of my choices won’t be surprising, but I guess one of the reasons why certain sleuthing couples are so well known is that they are also really good and memorable characters.

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Beginning with the queens of crime there is of course Agatha Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence Beresford who feature in four novels and one short story collection. Unlike some sleuths from the golden age of detective fiction, these two age naturally and that is part of their charm as you see how their sleuthing adapts and changes depending on where they are in life. I would also say this sleuthing couple arguably have one of the most equal partnerships as in every case Tuppence has a dominant role to play and won’t take being pushed to side lines sitting down, as she demonstrates in N or M? (1941).

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Equality is a key issue in my next sleuthing couple’s relationship and having said that no one will be surprise that the couple in question is Dorothy L Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane. For some mystery fans their slow developing relationship is a turn off, but for me I really enjoyed seeing the process of it. In so many mysteries the couple get together over the course of one mystery and often in rather a predictable way. Therefore it is great to see a relationship developing perhaps a bit more realistically and from such unpromising starts in Strong Poison (1930) as well, as Wimsey first meets his future wife when she is being tried for murder. Equally I also love how meeting Vane turns Wimsey into a more fully fledged and more developed character.

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Moving across the Atlantic to America, a sleuthing couple I enjoy on the whole (except in If the Shrouds Fits (1941)) are Kelley’s Roos’ Jeff and Haila Troy. At their best such as in The Frightened Stiff (1942), they are a pleasure to read with Roos’ pitching the comedy of their relationship at just the right level and both characters contribute significantly to the solving of the mystery.

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From one Troy to another, I am not a massive fan of Ngaio Marsh’s work on the whole, but one which I do remember enjoying is a Clutch of Constables (1968), which is one of the rare stories where Inspector Alleyn’s wife, Agatha Troy plays a considerable role in the investigation, being at the heart of the case from the very beginning. Troy is an intelligent and sympathetic character to follow and it is a shame she doesn’t get such a prominent role in the series, excepting during Alleyn’s awkward and tentative courtship of her. The same could be said of Nicholas Blake’s Nigel Strangeways and his explorer wife Georgina. Not only is she given an early demise in the series, she only really features significantly in two of the 16 mysteries: Thou Shell of Death (1936) and The Smiler with the Knife (1939). This again I felt was a shame as she is a can do and capable woman, with a strong sense of adventure, (which probably helps when you are an explorer) and I think she and Nigel could have gone on to solve many a mystery in an exciting and daring fashion.

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Looking at my choices so far a key determining factor has been the comic style which narrates their investigations and this is definitely the case with my next choice of Delano Ames’ Jane and Dagobert Brown. Their cases take place around the world and I think they are an engaging, though not always equal partnerships. The comedy often centres on the maverick nature of Dagobert and Jane’s responses to it, though I think she enjoys how her life is not always that conventional or ordinary. So far I have read the first four books in the series and until the last week or so I would have been adding a moaning sentence here of how impossible, The Body on Page One (1951), the fifth book in the series is to get a hold of, without having to schedule a bank robbery first. However, at long last I have found a more reasonably priced copy, with dust jacket to boot, so watch this space as I am definitely looking forward to reviewing this book soon.

I have one with this dust jacket, except it is on a yellow, rather than a blue background.

I have one with this dust jacket, except it is on a yellow, rather than a blue background.

My final choice are two characters who are more well-known for their appearance in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. In Carrie Bebris’ seven book series, beginning with Pride and Prescience (2004), Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy (now married) work together to unravel various mysteries and crimes which occur on their travels. For the mystery purist I would recommend starting from the third book in the series, North by Northanger (2006), where the detection element is the dominant focus. Normally continuation novels are not my thing but this is one of the rare occasions where it works and I think Bebris has faithfully recreated Elizabeth and Darcy, as well as the other famous characters in Austen’s canon and have all these characters interact plausibly with one another, which is no mean feat. This is a series I will finally be returning to soon, as the next review coming up will be The Suspicion at Sanditon (2015). Having not read the original incomplete story this is based on I am intrigued to see how it will fare.

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In my TBR pile I am looking forward to returning to Elizabeth Dean, with her book Murder is a Collector’s Item (1939). Emma March and her criminologist boyfriend Hank are the amateur couple this time round and the mysteries they become involved in, in this book and others, revolve around the antique business March works for. Looking at the synopsis I have high hopes that March will be fully involved in the sleuthing.

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With the end of the post I guess it is time to comment briefly on omissions from the list. In the case of Frances and Richard Lockridge, who created the sleuthing couple Mr and Mrs North, I have only read one of their cases quite a while ago and I didn’t feel I could remember enough about them to include them on the list. Whilst writing this piece I was tempted to include June Wright’s Maggie Byrnes and her husband in So Bad a Death (1949), yet what held me back is that they don’t tend to work together. Instead they get involved into a case in their own way and take independent actions which yield key pieces of the mystery. It is only nearer the end that information swapping really begins to take place. There are also a few other omissions due to my personal bugbear of reading about couple sleuths, where the female half doesn’t seem to do very much other than get into peril or act like a nincompoop. Chief culprits of this misdemeanour are Frances Crane, Margaret Scherf and Francis Durbridge.

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Great Series Finale in Juanita Sheridan’s The Waikiki Widow (1953)

Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item: Any other animal

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Sheridan’s work and her serial amateur detective Lily Wu are definitely firm reading favourites, which gives today’s review a sense of satisfaction, but also a feeling of poignancy, as this is the final Lily Wu mystery. The action mostly takes place in Hawaii and as with the other three novels, there is a strong sense of time and place. In particular in this novel there is a backdrop of Communist civil war in China, which leads to a large number of refugees entering British Hong Kong and then into places such America. Though in some ways this is more than a backdrop as these events propel the story’s case into being, making it also a very personal case for Lily, which brings the series full circle to her first case, The Chinese Chop (1949).

As usual Janice Cameron, Lily’s foster sister, narrates the story and we are soon plunged into a mystery. Whilst Janice is having a relaxing time with friends, her mind frequently turns to Lily, who has inexplicably disappeared for a few days. Many scenarios play out in Janice’s head but none of them prepare her for the truth when Lily returns as mysteriously as she left, though on her return she is not alone. She has brought with her a family friend, Madame Li and a man named Yao. Madame Li is far from well and over the opening chapters it is revealed that she was badly tortured in China, an experience also shared by her husband, but who unfortunately did not survive it. Aside from getting Madame Li to safety, Lily is also determined to recover her fortune, a large number of pearls, which were behind their torture in the first place. With all of this drama going on Janice is certainly perplexed when Lily is keen to go to a party being hosted by the infamous socialite, Lady Blanche Carleton, nicknamed the Waikiki Widow. Could it do with the fact that Blanche is the widow of Sir Simon Carleton, former British Legation in Shanghai?

As Lily and Janice get further acquainted with the murky and far from innocent Waikiki crowd it soon seems like there is more going on than hedonistic indulgence. This is brought strongly to Lily’s attention when Yao is killed in a hit and run, leaving three final cryptic words: Tea, Tiger and Dragon and with that all that he knows about Madame Li’s fortune is lost. But can Lily still recover it using his final words?

Overall Thoughts

On the whole this hasn’t been a month of really good or astounding reads so it was great that this novel reversed this situation. Lily Wu is a brilliant young female sleuth, who is active, intelligent and not hampered with romantic entanglements which undermine her sleuthing work. This novel is the first (and also technically last) story where a man courting Lily significantly features, but readers have little fear that this romance will change Lily; like Sherlock Holmes, there is distinct level of detachment with Lily. Moreover, like Holmes, due to this being emotionally a very difficult case, Lily is keen to stress the futility of indulging in tears, which cannot aid the case and those involved. This can temporarily make her seem quite cold, especially after Yao’s death, but it is a way of thinking Janice soon sees the value of. With Lily there is always an air of mystery. Janice is incredibly close to her, but even she does not fully know what goes on inside Lily’s mind and this is an air of mystery which intrigues and lures in rather than frustrates the reader. I find it interesting how she becomes a social ‘chameleon,’ ‘chang[ing] effortlessly into whatever character the occasion requires.’

A slightly more unusual building from Waikiki area in Hawaii in the 1950s

However, Lily Wu is not the only interesting character in the book and characterisation is definitely an arena Sheridan always excelled at in these stories, aided by the fact that she sets them in places and communities she had experience of. Moreover, it is in her characterisation that several unexpected twists come into the story, as she allows the reader to fall into viewing a character one way, only to bring include an event which then reveals them in a different light. The Waikiki widow is also an intriguing and engaging character. On the surface she is someone you could easily find repellent; party-mad, man-mad and image-focused etc., yet there is more to her than that. She is an enigmatic figure, who is far more complex. We get hints of this from Janice early on in the narrative when she describes her as being ‘consumed by some inner fire – and it was no hard, gemlike flame, either.’ Janice also insightfully writes that ‘taking her features apart, you find that she isn’t beautiful, but there’s something about her, she seems to generate excitement.’

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As I mentioned earlier in my post the Communist civil war raging in mainland China, saw a massive surge of refugees entering Hong Kong between 1945 and 1951. Leaving China becomes a very difficult process at this point and this aspect of the plot is certainly one of its strengths, as it gives it a certain grit and it also makes the world of the book painfully realistic. Sheridan gives an insightful and interesting window into the late 1940s and early 50s, even making the world of tea importing and exporting unusual and mysterious. Succinct lines here and there also hint engagingly at the dramatic changes which took place in China in the first half of the 20th century. The book also has a certain extra grit to its atmosphere due to unusual violence which takes place; torture to feet and backs, which has not been present in the earlier stories. Normally this sort of thing is not my cup of tea at all, but I think because Sheridan uses it so sparingly and doesn’t become overly graphic, it actually becomes an effective part of the novel.

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Vintage Postcard

If I was being picky I would say the only issue with the book is that the ending is slightly rushed, but nevertheless this is a strong and satisfying finale for Lily Wu and Janice Cameron and I am sad that I have reached the end of the series. I definitely wish Sheridan had written more novels featuring these two as there is so much room for further character development and change and her choice of setting is also brilliant. Part of me also wishes that these characters would be adapted for TV or film and in fact Sheridan was involved at one point in adapting one of the novels for Hollywood. But another part of me thinks it would be a bad idea, as it would be so easy for script writers to overly simplify Lily Wu’s character and give any love interest an overly-inflated role, thus ruining one of the series’ main strengths. *sighs*

Rating: 4.5/5

See also:

The Mamo Murders (1952)

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Scarweather (1934) by Anthony Rolls

Source: British Library Crime Classics (Review Copy)

Vintage Scavenger Hunt Item: Blue Object

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Rolls was the penname of C. E. Vulliamy, (the unusual surname arising due to him having an ancestor who was a Swiss clockmaker) and he certainly put his career in archaeology to good use in his crime fiction writing. Rolls published his crime fiction in two periods. The first of these periods was in the 1930s, producing four crime fiction novels between 1932 and 1934, with Scarweather (1934) being the last from this period and in his introduction to the British Library crime classics edition of this story, Martin Edwards suggests that Frances Iles was an influence. Rolls’ second period of writing crime fiction was between 1952 and 1963, where he wrote a further six novels, though published under his real name. Out of these 10 books it is said that The Vicar’s Experiments (1932) is his most well-known and it is hard to avoid comparing it to Malice Aforethought (1931), as the experiments in question are the vicar’s attempts in murder.

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The story takes place over 15 years and is written in retrospect by John Farringdale. He has two main friends at university; his cousin Eric Tallard Foster and Frederick Ellingham, who is a genius in the field of chemistry, is a ‘gifted musician,’ ‘not incapable of being sardonic’ and Farringdale says of him that he has ‘never known any man with a wider range of interests and of real attainment. He had a faculty for acquiring rapidly, not the rudiments alone, but the most reliable and intimate knowledge of any science or study.’ No prizes for guessing what role he is going to have in this story…

Foster although studying medicine is also interested in archaeology and strikes up a friendship with Professor Tolgen Reisby, who lives at Scarweather, an isolated coastal area. Foster also quickly develops a friendship with Reisby’s much younger wife, Hilda, and the reader is not surprised when Farringdale becomes concerned at how close they are becoming. Tragedy strikes in July 1914 when Foster disappears during a visit to Reisby. The police are satisfied it is an accident, that Foster drowned when going for a swim in the middle of the night. Ellingham though is far from sanguine about this theory, especially considering the various suspicious things he knows about Reisby. Yet little can be done as WW1 begins and both Ellingham and Farringdale are called up. However, this does not mean Ellingham has forgotten his suspicions about Foster’s disappearance and over the years further hints as to what he is thinking are given and we also see how other characters in the drama change over time, not always for the better. Further disappearances also add to the mystery.

Overall Thoughts

Rolls adopts a more unusual structure in his mystery novel. The book also focuses more on the consequences of committing a crime than the uncovering of one. These are bold choices, which may not appeal to everyone, though it was refreshing to see a less than conventional narrative structure employed. Yet what lets it down is the length of the novel in proportion to the story content. It did need shortening, especially given the ease by which the reader can solve the mystery early on. The longitudinal aspect of the novel did give the case a realistic quality, the way an event can seem suspicious or mysterious at the time but is not acted on due to insufficient evidence, yet still lingers on in people’s minds over time. However, this realism did not affect the pacing of the story so a shorter time frame may have been better.

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Unsurprisingly Rolls recreates the archaeological milieu well and it does have an interesting role in the central mystery, though it would have been better if its role had been a little more hidden in the story. He also seems to have a lot of fun portraying his archaeological characters humorously. Ellingham is a sleuth in the Holmes mould, though he lacks the witty deductions of the Baker Street detective. Ellingham is rather taciturn in his investigative work, though interestingly his actions do raise some ethical questions, with then being rather high handed at times, especially at the denouement of the novel. Farringdale makes a good narrator on the whole, though ironically for a barrister he doesn’t really show much of a legal mind. He is perhaps a little too conscious of his narrating role, but not to an annoying extent. It did amuse me when he writes the fairly snobbish line that ‘it has always been my belief, that only intelligent people know how to enjoy themselves.’ An unexpected but pleasing aspect of the book’s characterisation was in the social milieu of Scarweather, as it was somewhat reminiscent of the casts of characters Jane Austen created, especially with the local magistrate Macwardle and his two middle aged unmarried daughters. I would have liked this aspect of the book to have been gone into in more detail than it was.

Although this was rather a slow burner of a novel I have not written Rolls off, as the British Library are reprinting another of his works in March, from his first crime writing period, Family Matters (1933) and I have read good things about it, suggesting that it is a stronger work.

Rating: 3.5/5

N. B. I didn’t include the original cover for Scarweather due to the spoilers it gives away. This is something that Martin Edwards said Dorothy L Sayers remarked upon when she reviewed it.

Click here for Curtis Evans’ (The Passing Tramp blog) and Martin Edwards’ (Do you write under your own name? blog) thoughts on the book.

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Christie Cover Quiz Answers

Last Friday I set readers the challenge of guessing the titles of various Christie covers. The sneaky part though was that all of the covers where from translated editions. If you haven’t had a go already then head on over to the quiz first before reading any more of this post.

Cover 1: A Caribbean Mystery. This is a French edition of the novel, whose title reflects the role the Major has in the story i.e. he talks too much!

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Cover 2: This is the cover of The Sittaford Mystery, again in a French edition, which hones in on an important time in the book.

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Cover 3: The Man in the Brown Suit (French edition).

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Cover 4: Sad Cypress. This is a German edition of the novel, where the what I presume are sandwiches on the plate look like oversized paracetamol tablets.

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Cover 5: This is a Czech edition of Sleeping Murder.

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Cover 6: The Hollow, which may be a surprise to some. It certainly was for me, trying to relate the cover picture to the plot. This is a Finnish edition.

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Cover 7: A return to Germany with this edition of the Three Act Tragedy, which focuses on the murder method.

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Cover 8: Murder at the Vicarage. This is a Spanish edition of the story, which like number 6, has you wondering how the cover fits with the book.

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Cover 9: Three Blind Mice is another Spanish edition.

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Cover 10: The Secret Adversary and this is a Turkish edition of the book. Never imagined Tommy with ginger hair it has to be said though.

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Cover 11: And Then There Were None. I came across a lot of translated editions for this book, but I felt this was perhaps one of the trickier versions to guess, as it doesn’t emphasis the island setting.

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Cover 12: A Pocket Full of Rye. This is a Polish version which hints at the nursery rhyme aspect of the book.
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Cover 13: Elephants Can Remember. This is a quite a clever Portuguese edition of the novel, as I only today realised there is an elephant in the picture.

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Cover 14: Death on the Nile or Battleship Head Lady and the Mystery of the Terrible Ear-Rings as JJ likes to call it. This is a Norwegian edition of the book.

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Cover 15: Peril at End House. A similarity in style between this book and the previous one may have given you the hint that this is also a Norwegian version of the story.

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Cover 16: The Body in the Library. This is a Dutch edition which has gone across the grain and avoided clichés of libraries and books and instead gone for focusing on one of the victims.

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Cover 17: Crooked House. This is a Swedish cover which definitely gets to the heart of the story quite succinctly.

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Cover 18: Nemesis. A Ukrainian edition which hones in a small aspect of the case.

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Cover 19: One, Two, Buckle My Shoe. A Russian edition which reflects the novel’s initial setting at the dentist.

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The Case of the Perjured Parrot (1939) by Erle Stanley Gardner

Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item: Dead Body

The Case of the Perjured Parrot

This story opens with the joys or rather the pains of having to do administrative tasks within the workplace, as Della Street manages to finally get Perry Mason to attend to some of the letters which have been piling up. However he is not made to suffer for long as a new client called Charles Sabin arrives. His multi-millionaire father, Fremont, has recently been murdered in his remote mountain cabin, his pet parrot seemingly the only witness. The killer appears to have a soft spot for animals, leaving food and water. But Charles is only interested in Mason defending his right to control his father’s estate, rather than his step-mother, Helen, who he says his father regretted marrying. One interesting point emerges at this point: the parrot in the cabin is not the one which was Fremont’s pet. Why has someone made a substitution? Very soon into the case whilst the Sabins are quarrelling over money, Mason comes across an unexpected person in the case; a librarian named Helen Monteith and her story seems to give a new complexion to the sort of man the victim was. This is a case full of questionable marriages and forgeries, as well as a parrot who repeats a very incriminating sentence: ‘Put down that gun, Helen! Don’t shoot […] you’ve shot me.’

Overall Thoughts

Despite the initial unusual setup this was an average/ okay read for me. A problem I often have with Gardner’s work is that I can’t get attached to the characters. The pace though was by and large good, though unfortunately the heady and hectic pace of the first three quarters of novel made the coroner’s inquest in the final quarter painfully slow. In some ways it felt like page filler, with a lot of information being repetitive, before the solution appears and consequently this solution though very good and clever, loses dramatic impact. Post solution though there is a further twist to end the tale which was enjoyable. Having read three Gardner novels now I am wondering whether when reading these books there is a conscious feeling of a formula being used. I guess if it is a formula you love then you probably don’t mind this, but for me it takes time to get into the milieu of Mason’s world, to an extent. Maybe this means I am more conscious of the formula going on because it is not a one I am naturally drawn to, as I know I am a sucker for a country house mystery, a subgenre which has a formula of its own, but when reading such works I am not paying as much attention to the fact a formula is taking place. Does this make sense? Do other people feel like this or am I just the weird one?

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One section of the book which interested me a lot is when Mason delivers this slightly long speech:

‘I’ve mentioned before, when people get fixed beliefs, they interpret everything in the light of those beliefs. Take politics, for instance. We can look back at past events, and the deadly significance of those events seems so plain that we don’t see how people could possibly have overlooked them. Yet millions of voters, at the time, saw those facts and warped their significance so that they supported erroneous political beliefs. The same is true of things which are happening at present. A few years from now we’ll look back in wonder that people failed to see the deadly significance of signs on the political horizon. Twenty years from now even the most stupid high school student can appreciate the importance of those signs and the results which must inevitably have followed. But right now we have some twenty million voters who think one way, and some twenty-five million voters who think another. And both sides believe they’re correctly interpreting the facts.’

The way such sentiments chime into today’s political climate hugely struck me and also reminded me of how cyclical human history is.

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If you are someone who has likes mystery fiction with an American legal milieu or have enjoyed Gardner novels in the past then I think this book will probably be a more enjoyable read for you than it was for me. It’s not a bad novel. Definitely read poorer works this month, but Gardner just doesn’t knock my socks off as much as I would like him to.

Rating: 3.75

See also:

The Case of the Velvet Claws (1933)

The Case of the Restless Redhead (1954)

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Tuesday Night Bloggers: Romance on the Big Screen

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This month the Tuesday Night Bloggers are exploring love and its variation, as well as its consequences in crime fiction. Last week I delved into mostly golden age detective fiction to examine what suspects and criminals do in the name of love. For this week’s post, on Valentine’s Day no less, we’re off to the movies, as I share some of my favourite mystery films with a love angle. Deciding on which films to pick was tricky as although lots of mystery films have minor romance subplot, such as Rear View Window (1954) and The Green Man (1956), I wouldn’t say love and romance was a significant enough aspect.

Two of my film choices include romance amongst amateur sleuths, the first of which is His Girl Friday (1940), where a newspaper scoop brings a divorced couple back into each other’s lives. Cary Grant plays Walter Burns, the editor of the Chicago Morning Post, whilst Rosalind Russell plays Hildy Johnson, his ex-wife who is engaged to another man. The pair originally broke up due to the hectic nature of working for the press, with the lure of the next big scoop always getting in the way of their marriage. However, this time Walter hopes that a big scoop may help him win Hildy back. As you can imagine this is a comic mystery film and the dialogue is brilliant, especially between Hildy and Walter. Never has it been so true that the line between hate and love is awfully thin.

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That is one heck of an outfit Hildy is wearing…

My second choice was Woody Allen’s Manhattan Murder Mystery (1993). The amateur sleuths are a well-established married couple (played by Woody Allen and Diana Keaton), who increasingly believe that one of their neighbours has murdered their wife. Keaton’s character is the most convinced a murder has taken place and a lot of the comedy lies in her and husband disagreeing over this, yet Allen’s character still being drawn into investigating the matter. Although their suspicions may be right they don’t exactly have much detecting prowess, which again heightens the comedy of the piece.

Whilst Hildy and Walter rekindle their love for one another through a crime investigation, in How to Steal a Million (1966), it seems executing a heist also makes romantic sparks fly. This story is told from the point of view of the burglars and in a way the heist is motivated by a desire to protect another from scandal and ruin. Love also appears to flourish when a character either strives to prove their own innocence or the innocence of another of a certain crime and this is certainly the case in Hitchcock’s psychological mystery Spellbound (1945) and rather fun comedy adventure, To Catch a Thief (1955). Both films have quite star studded casts with the first including Ingrid Bergman and Gregory Peck, whilst the latter contains Cary Grant and Grace Kelly no less.

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How To Steal A Million

As my post last week shows love and the various forms it takes does not always bring out the best in people and of course love can also die or mutate into feelings of revenge. This also appears in some of my film choices this week, such as Sunset Boulevard (1950), where Gloria Swanson plays an ageing film star called Norma Desmond, who labours to enthral an impoverished writer named Joe Gillis, who is played by William Holden. This is a decidedly one sided relationship, with Gillis sticking around for the luxurious lifestyle on offer and in between times seems to be far more interested in another woman. Norma embodies many forms of negative love, including possessive and unrequited and when faced with the fact that Gillis wishes to leave, a fact which has a detrimental effect on her high levels of vanity, it seems to her there is only one course of action left to take – revenge. In case you are wondering I haven’t revealed huge spoilers as the film opens unusually with the end of the story, with the remainder of the film looking at the events which led to it; a structure which really appealed to me. This is a grippingly sinister film, which shows the darker side to Hollywood.

Another favourite film of mine which shows what happens when love dies or looks elsewhere is Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder (1954). In this film a husband decides on an elaborate form of revenge for his wife, whose affections have gone elsewhere, a plan which goes awry in more ways than one. This is an intense and suspense filled drama, where justice is not guaranteed to be served and which is brought to life with excellent acting from Grace Kelly who plays the wife, Margot, and Ray Milland who plays her husband, Tony. In relooking at this film and having re-read Christie’s Towards Zero (1944) last year, part of me wonders whether it is a coincidence that like Neville Strange, Tony Wendice has had a career in tennis. Both are tales where spurned men turn to violence and complicated revenge to assuage their anger and pain of rejection.

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My final film choice is Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), which like a few of my other choices includes Cary Grant (it’s not like I had a phase of watching Cary Grant films or anything…). In some ways this is quite a hard film to categorise. There is no linear detective investigation, either by amateur or police and the viewer is soon aware of the different crimes taking place and who is perpetrating them. Instead there is one man, Mortimer Brewster, who has just got married and desperate to take his new wife on their honeymoon, yet he has only one night to uncover all the criminal goings on and ensure they do not continue, whilst keeping suspicion from the police – after all no one wants to see their aunt sent to prison for poisoning lonely men. Although it is immediately evident that this is slapstick comedy caper, on a closer examination love is also an intrinsic part of the plot. It is a love of his aunts which ties Mortimer’s hands in many ways. There is also the danger that his endeavours to resolve the problems they are all in will cost him his wife and the comedy between them is brilliant as he tries to hide the truth from her, all the while she gets the wrong end of the stick and thinks he is going off her already.

Although only a TV drama and not a film for the cinema I did also want to give a special mention to the adaptations of the first three Harriet Vane novels by Dorothy L Sayers from the 1980s, featuring Edward Petheridge and Harriet Walter as the sleuthing duo. No month long look at love and crime fiction could avoid talking about Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, in which love and detection battle it out for supremacy in each book. The adaptations are brilliant on the whole, though the plot to Gaudy Night (1935) is definitely cut down a lot. Petheridge and Walter recreate the characters of Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane so well and in the way I had envisaged the characters from the books and they deftly develop the fraught and awkward relationship between the two characters.

So at the end of this post you may well be thinking there have been some big omissions. In the case of films such as Suspicion (1941) and Sabotage (1936), I have watched them and love is key element of them, but for me as my separate reviews of them testify to, are disappointing in various ways. In other cases such as with Rebecca (1940) and Laura (1944), I haven’t watched them so didn’t feel I could really include them.

Brad at ah sweet mystery blog is collecting the posts this month so head on over to his blog later today to read and his other bloggers’ thoughts on love and murder. If you missed last week’s roundup post click here.

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Create Your Own Mystery with Crime at Diana’s Pool (1926) by Victor L Whitechurch

Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item: Graveyard

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Whitechurch is a golden age detective fiction writer I have known about for a while but haven’t tried his work until today. The maxim of write what you know seems to apply in the case of Whitechurch who trained to be a priest, as he often wrote mystery novels featuring clerical characters, which manage to get themselves involved in criminal cases.

The foreword to this work by Whitechurch looks at how he went about writing Crime at Diana’s Pool (1926). He writes that:

‘In most detective stories the author knows exactly what the end is going to be, and writes up to that end from the beginning. But, in reality, the solver of a problem in criminology has to begin at the beginning, without knowing the end […] I have tried to follow this method in the construction of the following story. To begin with I had no plot. When I had written the first chapter I did not know why the crime had been committed, who had done it, or how it was done. Then, with an open mind, I picked up the clues which seemed to show themselves, and found, as I went on, their bearing on the problem. In many respects the story appeared to work itself out to that inevitable conclusion about which, to begin with, I was in entire ignorance.’

What interested me the most though was that he closed his foreword wondering whether people reading his first chapter would have come up with the same subsequent plotline as he did. This got me thinking, especially once I had read the book, as I am not sure many people would have gone with the plot he chose. Therefore I have decided to share the key points of the first chapter with you and it would be great to see based on these points what sort of plot everyone comes up with.

Point 1: Felix Nayland and his unmarried sister cause quite the stir when they move in to The Pleasaunce at Coppleswick, with other inhabitants wondering whether they are from the right set and therefore entitled to a social visit.

Point 2: Felix and his sister host a garden party, hiring a band.

Point 3: Two specific characters brought to our attention are the Chief Constable, Major Challow and Reverend Westerham, the local vicar, whose eyes are said to have ‘an occasional twinkle in them.’ Challow wishes to have a private chat with the vicar about a parishioner. They arrange to talk at a later date.

Point 4: Felix shows off a part of his garden where he has a pool, named Diana’s. This amuses one of the guests greatly, as her name is also Diana.

Point 5: Rain brings the party in doors.

Point 6: Felix Nayland is disturbed when he sees a member of the band looking at his collection of curiosities. Is it the action or the person themselves who has caused this perturbed feeling?

Point 7: Felix and the band member disappear during the concert, but only one of them is found afterwards: Felix, who is face down in his garden pool, with a knife in his back.

What story would you come up with?

In Whitechurch’s story the investigation begins by focusing on the musician as the prime suspect. In many ways it seems an easy case to solve. But there are one or two peculiarities such as why is the victim wearing the prime suspect’s jacket. Extra footprints, missing items and a false beard also muddy the trail. Westerham is one of the first people to find the body and being friends with Chief Constable also means he gets to be a bit more involved in the investigation. His excellent memory is one of his strongest assets, though his heart may be the weakest when it seems like the woman he loves, is hiding something about the party.

I think Whitechurch has a very matter of fact style, though sometimes he gives a little too much detail about prosaic actions. No one needs two paragraphs on someone getting their fingerprints taken. He may have a vicar character but his writing does not really lean towards the spiritual or philosophical in the way Chesterton’s Father Brown stories do at times. This is not a mystery with lots of suspects and motives, as for a long time the police are focused on the musician and it is only later on that others are considered. Consequently I think the characterisation suffered as there isn’t a core set of characters or suspects we get to know through police interviews and suspects discussing the case amongst themselves and Felix as a person is very much the same enigma at the end of the story as he was at the beginning. The vicar is the character we get to know the best and it has been noted in other reviews that it is a shame this is his only fictional outing. Dialogue is a little artificial in some characters with the Chief Constable finishing most sentences with ‘-what!’ and there are other characters who when asked how they are, reply ‘topping.’ Furthermore, at times, stereotypical responses to discussing foreigners also creep into the text.

Although there are opportunities for guessing what is going on, I think the reader could have had more material to work with. The one man hunt which goes on for a while prohibits this. There is also a little too much reliance on backstory or telling rather than showing in my opinion. The solution, though being a surprise, was not playing fair with the reader. The vicar had a number of clues we did not and the book ends with a witness statement someone gives right at the end, not realising of course how significant what they saw was. So I think on the whole I might not have read Whitechurch’s best work. Has he written any really good ones? Personally I wonder whether a little more planning in his story might have made this a stronger read.

Rating: 3.25/5

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Death In Berlin (1955) by M. M. Kaye

Vintage Mystery Scavenger Hunt Item: Brunette

Once again Kaye used her own personal experiences of a place in her writing, as she stayedImage result for murder abroad m m kaye in Berlin for a short while due to her husband’s career in the army and army members and their families make up a considerable part of the characters in this story (though one hopes they were not based too closely on real people!). After a short prologue in wartime Belgium, where one refugee doesn’t make the escape boat in time, the story jumps ahead to 1953. Miranda Brand is tagging along with her cousin Robert Melville and his family to Berlin as a cheap holiday. Robert along with others has been redeployed there and many army wives are coming along too, though it seems not all of them are that happy about the move to Berlin. Before boarding a final night train into Berlin the various group members dine and the lone bachelor of the group, Brigadier Brindley, tells them a story he has told many times before. A member of the Nazi secret service was detailed to remove a large quantity of diamonds from Holland in 1940. Yet after he returned from his mission, he and his wife vanished and a while later a grisly discovery in the garage seemed to suggest where the couple’s servants had gone to. Neither the couple nor the diamonds were ever found. The final twist in this story is that an orphaned child refugee who came from a rescue boat in Belgium, arrived in England with a doll, a doll which had over £5000 in cash and jewellery which belonged to the secret serviceman’s wife. The child does not know how the stuff got there and that child was Miranda, a fact which astonishes the party. The only reminder of the event that she has is a charm from one of the bracelets. As I said the Brigadier has told this story many times before and Miranda’s surprise connection to it made this recitation particularly memorable, but it is also memorable for another reason: it leads the Brigadier’s death.

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During the train journey he is stabbed, a fact which is discovered by Miranda when she accidently goes into his berth, but it also means she becomes incriminatingly covered with his blood. Thankfully a handsome stranger, who is also the officer commanding the 89 section of Berlin named Simon Lang, is there to come to the rescue. Although Lang is our predicted love interest the course of love runs far from smooth, as Miranda becomes increasingly implicated in the case and she too wonders how far she can trust his ‘actor’s face.’ Only someone from the party could have committed the murder, but why would they? Many of them strapped for cash speculated about what they would do if they had the diamonds, but it still seems unfathomable why anyone would kill the Brigadier. Yet unsurprisingly the Brigadier’s is not the only death and Miranda has to confront the fact that even those she has known for years may not be who she thought they were. Marital jealousy, secrets from the past and lots more muddy the waters before the end is in sight.

Overall Thoughts

Out of the three Kaye novels I have read this one had the best initial setup, a murder within a confined space and an interesting backstory to boot. As usual Kaye effectively Image result for british zone berlin 1953depicts her setting, revealing the tensions between the different zones in Berlin and it interested me that the characters were only allowed to travel on trains through Russian zones at night, with the blinds down and guards in the corridors. The final solution was also satisfying with more than one surprise. However, the middle of the book was where the story fell down for me. The action of the book follows our heroine, Miranda, but unfortunately she is rather a passive individual, she wanders from social activity to social activity and although information is gleaned from these events, it did limit the pace of the novel. It also led to some rather face palm moments. Picture the scene: You have just come across a body (again) and got blood on your clothes. You have phoned for help and locked yourself in a child’s bedroom to keep them safe from any potential lurking killer. Sensible thing to do. What do you do next? The answer in this case is to take your dress off in order to destroy it so you won’t get incriminated. Of course you don’t have a replacement dress to hand and then your help arrives (Lang). What do you do? Put the dress back on? Locate a dressing gown or blanket? Explain the situation through the door and get a replacement dress brought to you? Nope you of course just walk straight out and only realise your gaff 5 minutes later. One is not surprised when Lang is somewhat confused by coming to the rescue and finding his rescue-ee half dressed.

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Image result for british zone berlin 1950Wardrobe malfunctions aside Miranda was also a bit disappointing in how one of her greatest contributions to the case is far too much of a coincidence and I guess I’ll always be a reader who wants the female lead to be a doer. The story would have had greater impact if Miranda had been able to work more closely with Lang, as his investigation is pretty much kept in the dark and only comes out at the end. This meant that as a reader you couldn’t really guess the solution as you didn’t have the same information, which again made it harder to be engage with the story. Having read three Kaye novels I have noticed often in her character lists there is an overly good looking husband, who causes grief for their wife, one way or another, due to the female interest they draw. Such handsome spouses invariably seem to be more trouble than they are worth. Whilst I am not sure whether I will return to Kaye’s work any time soon, as her female leads tend to frustrate me, it did please me to come across a new word: a Bobby-soxer, which was a 1940s reference to zealous fans of pop singers and is used to describe the way a woman looks at Robert Melville.

Rating: 3.5/5

See also:

Death in Cyprus (1956)

Death in Kenya (1958)

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CADS Issue 74: The Highlights

When this issue of CADs (Crime and Detective Stories) magazine came out, unfortunately I was a bit too busy to post about it so I decided to do a post after I read it. I myself contributed an article introducing Robin Forsythe’s Anthony Vereker mystery novels, which the Dean Street Press published last year. My piece gives an overview of the series as well as giving recommendations of where to start. This issue had lots of great articles in, covering many authors new to me or fleshing out authors I only knew a little about. The articles I enjoyed reading the most were:

  • ‘Josephine Tey’s Pre-War Crime Fiction: The Man in the Queue and A Shilling for Candles and ‘Baroness Orczy‘ (1865-1947) by Philip L. Scowcroft. The latter article was particularly useful as Orczy is not an author I know much about.
  • ‘Trending: Why is the Golden Age Fashionable Again?’ by Martin Edwards. This was a brilliant piece which looks at the various reasons why GAD fiction has become more popular again. It also amazed me that in two and a half years over 600,00 paperbacks have been sold in the British Library Crime Classics series and that in December 2014 Farjeon’s Mystery in White sold over 75,000 copies in a month, beating sales for Gone Girl.
  • ‘Dr Watson, Step into the Limelight’ by Liz Gilbey. A thought provoking piece which looks at the importance of Watson and what he gives to the Holmes series.
  • ‘Grant Allen and Arthur Conan Doyle: A Victorian Couple’ by Peter Calamai. Allen is an author I know of and have read the odd short story by him, but have yet to read a novel by him. Looking at the connections between Allen and Doyle and their different writing styles and beliefs was really interesting.

Geoff Bradley’s review of Richard Bradford’s Crime Fiction: A Very Short Introduction was also pleasing, though for the selfish reason that it corresponded with my own views on that work. The work in question being very derogatory towards the subject it is writing about. Apparently English crime fiction is by far and large rubbish and not worth reading in this book. Even modern English crime fiction takes a bashing as well as GAD fiction. There are also a number of mistakes in the work and keen eyed Geoff spotted more than I did, though I did pick up on the error of suggesting that Miss Marple features in The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.

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The letters also brought up some interesting information and ideas.  Firstly one letter mentions a tool for finding contemporary reviews on GAD fiction: www.unz.org.I have not tried this site myself but if anyone else has I would be interested to hear about experience of it.

Another letter to the magazine was asking for details about books, particularly older ones with scenes in cinemas, as they were trying to find such works for a friend writing on cinema studies. This intrigued me as I know that the cinema is a ropey alibi in mystery fiction and The ABC Murders do come to mind, but equally I am struggling to think of mystery novels which feature cinemas in a more significant way. Does anyone else know any mystery books with cinema scenes in?

If you want to sample CADs for yourself email Geoff the editor at Geoffcads@aol.com.

 

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Christie Cover Quiz

Inspiration for this quiz goes to Lucy Fisher in the Golden Age Detection Facebook group, who asked fellow members to guess which Christie title this cover was for:
Image may contain: 2 people, textBit of a sneaky one as although it is for Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? (1934) the translation uses the American title The Boomerang Clue. So for my quiz I have scoured the internet for Christie covers in different languages and the name of the game is unsurprisingly to guess which titles the covers are for. An additional challenge is for you to also guess which language they are in.

So if you fancy a go add your answers to the comment section below. The answers will go up next week. Fancy another Christie cover quiz? Try this one I made from last year.

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Finally there is cover picture. It is meant to be a Christie title translated into Urdu. Unfortunately though I can’t seem to find out which title it is meant to be, my Urdu is a little rusty. So if anyone with a smattering of Urdu can find out for me if it is a Christie and if so which one that would be great.

N. B. Update: As you can see in the comments section below Santosh has solved the mystery, though unfortunately it does mean this is not a Christie cover.
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