Ever keen to do something different on blog I decided to look back on my reading this year in terms of what I have learnt from it all. I wouldn’t say this was facts per say, though much to my American readers’ amusement I finally figured out what hominy grits are after reading Murder in Stained Glass (1939). Nevertheless, I always know that if a sleuth’s eyes twinkle they are up to something and if I ever get invited to a zoo at night, then I think I have it covered with this year’s reading. Like requests to family or friend gatherings, (see The Scent of Almonds and Other Stories (2015) and Murder at Beechlands (1948)), especially during the holidays, the answer is always no.
And yes if you haven’t already twigged some of these “life lessons” are not to be taken too seriously.
To begin with, at the start of the year, I had a refresher course in being a female amateur sleuth with Ianthe Jerrold’s There May Be Danger (1948) and I think the main lesson I
learnt from this book is if you are being chased by a dangerous villain don’t forget where you left your gun. Definitely a rooky error that one. However, if you are worried about your own ability to do such a job then fear not ladies as quite a few of my books this year have shown that when it comes to fictional couple sleuth teams, the woman’s role is a doddle – mainly because they don’t seem to do much (Yes I’m looking at you Jean Holly and Emily Byrce!). Moving from female amateur sleuths to female criminals, my reading this year has definitely indicated the importance of looking your best if you get caught and put on trial, such as in Gladys Mitchell’s When Last I Died (1942). Though based on Phoebe Atwood Taylor’s The Six Iron Spiders (1942) I wouldn’t recommend wearing slacks – not unless you want the court falling in the aisles with laughter.
Delving into the world of romance, Philip Macdonald’s The Rasp (1924) arguably asserts the importance of rescuing the love of your life (in a way which makes them come across as inferior of course,) before confessing your feelings to them. If they got into danger because of a mistake they made, that’s even better, as expressing your love for someone who is independent, competent and can generally take care of themselves is just so hard isn’t it? Thankfully A. G. Macdonell’s The Factory on the Cliff (1928) provided a timely antidote with its exposure of the self-serving nature in ‘the knight errantry business.’ John Mersereau’s Murder Loves Company (1940) moreover has a different love lesson to offer, focusing in on the crazy things we do for love: become more proactive amateur sleuths, get drunk and generally act more irresponsibly and of course that old cliché of foregoing watering your prize tomato plants. This year’s reading also gave me a helpful tip on how to catch a man, with James Norman’s novel, Murder, Chop Chop (1942), asserting that men become putty in your hands when you knit your eyebrows whilst looking like you have toothache. Who knew right?
My reading this year has also given me some reading related life lessons, such as the deceptive nature of blurbs, which I found to be the case with She Faded into Air (1941) by Ethel Lina White, where the blurb makes a female character into a protagonist in a high state of jeopardy. This would have been fine if this had actually happened in the book. This year also taught me the divisive nature of the author Eilís Dillon, when I innocently reviewed Death at Crane’s Court (1953), only to find that the interesting and quite enjoyable writer I seemed to find, wasn’t there for everyone else. I also learnt this year that some “classics” of crime fiction really aren’t that good *cough* E C Bentley’s Trent’s Last Case (1913) *cough*, though some certainly do deserve their classic status, such as Anna K. Green’s The Leavenworth Case (1878). Green too has something to say when it comes to affairs of the heart, giving her characters killer lines such as, ‘I wished to knit her beauty so firmly into the warp and woof of my being…’ Just the sort of line to include in next year’s Valentine card!
Of course friendship crops up frequently in detective fiction and I have read a few books this year with amateur sleuthing friendships at their centre. Such reads have shown that friends will always tell it to you straight:
‘What about a gas gun to be thoroughly up-to-date?’
‘You’ll be an excellent substitute, Ricky!’ (Robin Forsythe’s The Spirit Murder Mystery (1936))
L. C. Tyler’s Cat Among the Herrings (2016) similarly does this as well showing that friends will invariably get you into awkward and undignified situations: alcohol, amateur sleuthing and Cluedo really don’t mix well – though hilarious to read about.
Travel is another area within which I have picked up quite a few handy tips from my reading this year beginning with The Riddle of the Travelling Skull (1934) by Harry Stephen Keeler. This story is a testament to the importance of making sure you don’t pick up someone else’s bag off public transport. As is Eric Ambler’s Passage to Arms (1959) a testament to never agreeing to do someone a favour (however simple and small) whilst on holiday.
For all readers who are also parents fear not as this year’s mystery fiction reading has some nuggets of wisdom for you too. For instance Craig Rice’s Home Sweet Homicide (1944) shows single parents the efficacy of having your children find your next partner and if in reality this does not lead to romantic bliss then an interview by June Wright, which is included in a recent reprint of her novel So Bad a Death (1949), is essential to bear in mind, as she highlights how ‘writing bloody murders […is] a good way to avoid infanticide.’
Struggling for a Christmas gift for your loved one? Then you’ll be glad to know that yo-yos are not just for children and like the thumbograph in R Austin Freeman’s The Red Thumbprint (1907), provide hours of entertainment, as supported by Dorothy L Sayers’ Murder Must Advertise (1933). Who needs the TV or an X-box when you can collect people’s fingerprints for an evening?
Final advice from this years’ reading?
- Avoid collecting dangerous items for a hobby (see: Clyde B Clason’s Dragon’s Cave (1940). After all no one has been murdered with a stamp before.
- If you are feeling exasperated then try out these phrases from Edmund Crispin’s The Moving Toyshop (1946) for size: ‘oh my dear paws’ and ‘oh my fur and whiskers’. (N.B. This blog does not take responsibility for any social mockery or isolation which users of these phrase may experience.)
- When looking for employment be careful not to take up jobs at places you have been warned against and always be suspicious of employer eccentricity and if you don’t believe me you’d best read Patricia Wentworth’s Fool Errant (1929).