It has been a busy month on the blog with 14 reviews, a post looking at Agatha Christie in translation with contributors from all over the world and a series of spoof posts looking at what Christie has to say about going on holiday, what advice Golden Age detective fiction gives for visiting a country house and career advice from crime fiction for those interested in working in the theatre.
Deciding on this month’s top book has been a tricky decision as I had a number of good reads. Here are the contenders:
Case for Three Detectives (1936) by Leo Bruce
Bruce creates an effective and enjoyable parody of country house mysteries in this story and I particularly liked his parody of Hercule Poirot, though his parodies of Lord Peter Wimsey and Father Brown were also good. Bruce’s choice of narrator also heightened the parody, as in a way Townsend can be seen as a not particularly effective Watson or Captain Hastings. If you’re in the mood for a comic mystery, I’d certainly recommend this one.
An English Murder (1951) by Cyril Hare
Another country house murder and this is my favourite Cyril Hare novel to date. The motivation behind the killings and the choice of killer was clever and the social aspect of the novel was interesting, as this story shows the ending of one era and the beginning of another. Hare’s characterisation skills are strong in this book, reflecting the alternative ways characters cope with the situation (trapped in a snow bound country house, with no telephone working and a killer on the loose). All in all an enjoyable story which updated the country house mystery.
Dragon’s Cave (1940) by Clyde B Clason
Out of the two Clason novels I have read (the other being Poison Jasmine), this is the one I would recommend to start with. There are a number of unusual crimes (in terms of method), focused on a rather unusual yet enjoyable to read about family. In some respects this story tries to be a fair play mystery with maps and diagrams for the reader, along with the amateur sleuth, Westborough creating a list of questions he thinks are necessary for solving the mystery. But Clason doesn’t ignore other aspects of the novel as there are a number of thematic issues such as WW2 and criminal punishment and character relationships play a significant role in the story.
The Reluctant Detective (2010) by Martha Ockley
Vicars or religious figures as amateur sleuths is not a new concept, but what I think Ockley does well is that she gives a sensitive and nuanced depiction of Christianity, which rises above media stereotypes. Ockley also succeeds in creating a vicar sleuth who readers regardless of their opinions on religion can relate to and identify with, as she is honest about her short comings and doubts. For readers who love detective fiction with strong characterisation and a prioritising of personalities and relationships then this might be the book for you, as this is definitely one of the strengths of the book. But the central mystery is also engaging – a vicar who is poisoned through the Holy Communion wine – and the killer is concealed from the reader for most of the book.
The Golden Box (1942) by Frances Crane
My final candidate is from the world of American Golden Age detective fiction and is an author I will hopefully be returning to next month. There are plenty of clues and suspicious characters in this mystery to keep you wondering and Crane uses these aspects of the plot to hide her killer, as she plays on reader assumptions. Again this is a mystery which is focused on one particular and to an extent odd family and set contemporary to publication this is also a novel which raises questions around social issues such as marriage and gender roles.
After a lot of thought I eventually decided that this month’s winner would be…….
An English Murder by Cyril Hare
It was a tough choice between this book and Bruce’s, but I think in the end I picked Hare’s novel because in its own way it had its humorous moments, it brought up a number of intriguing themes (see my review for more info), contained a host of not always likeable but very interesting characters and I enjoyed the final solution.
What books have you enjoyed reading this month?