This month’s reading has been varied to say the least in terms of quality and in terms of content. I’ve managed to squeeze in reading two non-fiction books on crime fiction as well so I’ll be doing a separate Book of the Month category for them. I’ve read books from old favourites but also branched out into authors new to me.
To begin with my non-fiction reads I read Taking Detective Fiction Seriously: The Collected Reviews of Dorothy L Sayers (2017) and Mark Aldridge’s Agatha Christie on Screen (2016). I think anyone who has read my review for the former can be in no doubt that this was the clear winner. Sayers’ reviews are an absolute must for the golden age mystery fiction fan, providing thoughtful insight into how mysteries stories are created, as well as giving quite a few laugh out loud moments when Sayers takes sloppy writers to task.
For my mystery fiction reading this month I only managed 12 books. The month began with a new author to me, Ione Montgomery, whose internet presence is minimal to say the least and there is a certain amount of mystery surrounding who she actually was. I read her novel The Golden Dress (1940), which although included some unusual narrative threads, was a bit trope filled and the ending wasn’t as successful as I would have liked. As I have mentioned in previous Book of the Month posts I am participating in Bev’s Follow the Clues Challenge, which she hosts at My Readers’ Block. Last month my chain was 29 books long and this month’s reads have boosted it up to 41. The Golden Dress connected to February’s final novel, Elizabeth Dalys’ Evidence of Things Seen (1943), as both authors were American, but it was the detecting duo in The Golden Dress which put me onto my next read, Delano Ames’ The Body on Page One (1951) (a book I have been eager to read for ages). Like Montgomery’s novel, Ames has a comic amateur sleuth duo solve his novel’s mystery. Ames’ novel was definitely worth the wait, with Jane and Dagobert Brown being as entertaining and endearing as ever, whilst trying to solve the murder of one of their neighbours.
The Body on Page One (1951) is the 5th novel in the Brown series and this took me onto my next read, With a Bare Bodkin (1946), which was Cyril Hare’s 5th mystery novel. In the past I have found some of Hare’s novels a bit dry, but this was not the case this time as presents us with an intriguing murder set in an equally engaging wartime setting and there is a wonderful streak of metafictional humour running through the book, as some characters who are attempting to plan a murder mystery get more than they bargained for!
My next read, Dr Priestley Investigates (1930) by John Rhode, like Hare’s novel has a crime motivated by a strong desire to keep one’s past hidden. However, despite its tantalising setup of corpse being found in the car of man drunk driving, this read was not so good. The pace was rather slow and it overly relied on a quite fantastical backstory. Though if you are in the mood for an extreme drinking game then this story could be of some use. Rhode is not the only author to have put his corpse into a mode of transport, as this trope can also be found in my next read Sebastian Japrisot’s The Sleeping Car Murders (1962) where the first corpse of the book is found in a train. Characterisation and writing style were both strong features of the story, even if I did have a few qualms about the solution.
I then returned to Cyril Hare, reading Tenant for Death (1937), which like Japrisot’s novel was his first mystery novel, where murder strikes in a sleepy London street. The death a sneaky financier, leaves a lot of suspects for Inspector Mallett to wade through. Definitely a mystery which gives you a puzzle you can sink your teeth into and the good pace means it is also a quick and enjoyable read.
My next read, or rather re-read, was published in the same year as Hare’s novel and was Sayers’ Busman’s Honeymoon (1937). My memories of this book were hazy and I was keen to see if I still loved the book as much as when I first read it and on balance I think I gave it a lower rating than when I first read it, but then I did find new reasons to love it.
Like the victim in Sayers’ novel, the victim of Anthony Rolls’ Family Matters (1933) is also a very unpopular and not very well off man, so in both incidences there are long queues of suspects, headed by family members. Family Matters (1933) is a hugely enjoyable inverted mystery, with plenty of comedy and surprises and is the one to try if you are new to Rolls.
Sayers pops up again with my next read as she links J. W. Vandercook’s Murder in Trinidad (1934) and Family Matters. Both books are very different in content but it was Sayers who reviewed them both for the Sunday Times. Annoyingly with Vandercook’s novel, there is an intriguing cold case, which is hidden underneath an over the top thriller narrative that is certainly much weaker and of less interest. But from one island to another, my next read, The Trouble at Turkey Hill (1949), was by another new author to me, Kathleen Moore Knight and is set on Penberthy island. As a first experience of her it showed me there is a lot to recommend with her engaging writing style and deft usage of the love triangle trope.
The links between this novel and my next read all centre on names. Apart from both authors have including their middle names in their pennames, both in Knight’s novel and Henry Ware Eliot, Jr.’s The Rumble Murders (1932) there is a married couple called Marsh. The Rumble Murders, is Eliot’s sole contribution to mystery fiction, which is definitely a shame as he sure knows how to construct an intricate and puzzling mystery, centring on two bodies found inside car rumble seats.
Like Eliot’s novel my next read was another recent Coachwhip reprint, called The Owner Lies Dead (1932) and was written by the unusually named Tyline Perry. And it is this my final read of the month which stole the accolade of being my book of the month. It has a beguiling central crime to be solved, whilst also making you quickly invested in the main characters, eager to know what happens next. Also I think it is the only mystery I have read where the corpse is found down a mine shaft.