My Top Ten Reads from the Dean Street Press

Since the beginning of my blog, all the way back in 2015, I have been dipping into the treasure trove of classic crime reprints the Dean Street Press have been offering. They have done so much to make forgotten authors of the past accessible again, and at a price that does not require you to rob a bank. They have already reissued over 230 mystery titles, of which I have reviewed 57, (so just the odd one or two to go…) Nevertheless, I thought it might be a nice idea to share my top ten titles with you, and, of course, find out which are your favourites. It goes without saying that everyone will have a completely different list to mine.

So starting with 10th place we have…

The Spirit Murder Mystery (1936) is Robin Forsythe’s final mystery to feature his series sleuth Anthony Vereker Algernon. I have read his other cases, yet I think this one is his best. Firstly, we are provided with an interesting mystery which has many avenues for investigation. Two men disappear and when they are found they are both dead on a stretch of wasteland. Initially it seems as though each victim was responsible for the other’s death, as the relevant murder weapons are close at hand. Naturally they both hated each other too. However, things inevitably get more complicated. This novel is also the best Algernon mystery as the sleuth himself is not allowed to over-theorise. In other cases when he does this, the pacing suffers. This is not a problem in The Spirit Murder Mystery and the narrative really benefits from it as Forsythe’s other writing strengths come to the fore. I particularly enjoyed the amusing exchanges between Algernon and his friend Ricardo.

In 9th place is…

In The Crime at Noah’s Ark (1931) Molly Thynne presents us with an assortment of characters whose festive plans have all gone awry when snow maroons them at an inn. I liked how the events are mostly filtered through one character, a writer called Angus Stuart. Whilst the motive for the crimes in this book is quite simple, the logistics for the various criminal exploits is far more complex, as there is a possibility of more than one culprit operating. I had some qualms about how the mystery was solved, but on the other hand I felt Thynne was very good at depicting the psychology of a group of people stuck in a difficult situation.

In 8th place is…

Francis Vivian’s The Singing Masons (1950) contains an engaging bee keeping milieu and I appreciated how this was more than just a setting, as the author works it into the case, which is naturally one of murder. This is a good book to read if you value good puzzle plotting. Inspector Knollis and his colleague make an entertaining police team too, and I was quite surprised by the emotive ending Vivian achieves.

In 7th place is…

Ianthe Jerrold is the only author to get two titles on my top ten list and I wish she had written more. Deadman’s Quarry (1930) is her second novel and her last featuring John Christmas – her amateur sleuth. This story is a brilliant example of how some writers at that time were marrying the detective fiction plot with the novel of manners. The anti-Watson friend of the sleuth is an amusing feature of this book and the characterisation in general is really strong, bringing the book alive. I particularly felt Ianthe included a range of interesting female characters which didn’t easily fall into stereotypical groups.

In 6th place is…

Joan A Cowdroy’s Murder of Lydia (1933) is unusual for the time in that it includes an Asian amateur sleuth, named Li Moh. I found this inclusion a fascinating one as Cowdroy’s depiction avoids embodying “Yellow Peril” attitudes. If anything I wish we saw more of him, since he provides an interesting outsider’s opinion on British culture. The case he is involved in is also good, with plenty of physical clues to grapple with.  

Now we get to the Top Five, beginning with…

Let Him Lie (1940) is a standalone mystery by Ianthe Jerrold and it fits within the country house murder mystery mould. Jeanie Halliday is an engaging and quite naturalistic amateur sleuth. In many ways I felt she was a young Miss Marple in training, and I liked how there was no romance subplot for her to get embroiled in. The ending is an exciting one too, with the tension increasingly ramped up.  

In 4th place is…

E. & M. A. Radford’s Who Killed Dick Whittington? (1947) takes us to the Christmas pantomime season, when a woman playing Whittington dies on stage during a performance. This is a simple crime, which becomes more complicated and the puzzle these two writers develop is very interesting. Misdirection is effectively deployed too and near the end they issue a challenge to the reader. The solution is well clued and there is much enjoyment to be had in the well-realised theatrical setting.

In 3rd place…

A family reunion is over before it has barely begun in The Strange Case of Harriet Hall (1936) by Moray Dalton. Murder unsurprisingly causes the interruption. Plot and characterisation work hand in hand and of the books by Dalton I have read, this is the strongest in that regard. Twists are utilised well to widen the mystery and I felt it was a gripping read, partially due to the way the author orders plot events and information reveals.

Now we are down to the final two and it was very close, but the final runner up was…

The Mystery of the Peacock’s Eye (1928) is the best novel by Brian Flynn that I have read. It begins at a hunt ball and proceeds to murder in the dentist’s chair. Lots of clues are given to the reader, the hard part is trying to figure out how they piece together. Misdirection and red herrings muddy the waters suitably and I felt the author was adept at anticipating the assumptions the reader is likely to make.

So that means in first place, my favourite Dean Street Press read is…

Once more our list takes us to a snowbound locale. This time in Dancing Death (1931) by Christopher Bush, it is a snowbound country house. It is an action-packed story as we have a fancy dress ball, stolen cannisters of poisonous gas, the power and phone lines are cut, and yes, also dead bodies that have died in unusual ways. Bush’s creative opening to the mystery is effective. Instead of the traditional introduction of characters as they arrive at the country house, we have Ludovic Travers providing highlights from the case to come. These highlights are episodic in nature and the reader best be wary that they don’t trip you up!

So which are your favourite mysteries from the Dean Street Press?

32 comments

  1. I’ve read five of these. I really liked the Francis Vivian and Molly Thynne works. I also have a lot of time for Moray Dalton. However I’m afraid I thought ‘Who Killed Dick Whittington’ was just boring. I kept waiting for something interesting to happen and ‘Peacock’s Eye’, although it had some great misdirection I thought was rather a mess. However it’s great to have Dean Street Press. I must try Ianthe Jerrold next

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      • The Case of the Missing Minutes is my standard recommendation, but his WWII home front trilogy, comprising of The Case of the Murdered Major, The Case of the Kidnapped Colonel and The Case of the Fighting Soldier, also comes highly recommended. The Case of the Chinese Gong has a few imperfections, but otherwise a solid attempt at a Carr-style impossible crime.

        The only one that has really disappointed me, so far, is The Case of the Monday Murders.

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  2. Pleasantly surprised to see Bush top your list and Forsythe getting a much deserved spot, but where are Punshon and Rutland? Something dodgy is going on here!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes I surprised myself too lol My experience with Punshon has not been bowled me over I have to admit. AS to Rutland, if I was doing a Top 15 or Top 20 then her book Blue Murder would have made the list. That is her best book. The other two I was less keen on. What would your DSP Top 10 look like?

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  3. This is a great list and one that makes me wish I had read even more DSP so I could offer my own. The good news is that I have only read a handful of your favorites which means the likelihood of much fun reading to come. Hopefully I can get to at least a few of these in the coming months!

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  4. Personally, I’ve yet to meet a Bush or Flynn title I didn’t like on some level, they are a kind of comfort reading for me.
    On the other hand, I’ve not had the best of experiences with Dalton (although I’m not writing her off yet) or Vivian. With the latter, I didn’t mind his final non-Knollis effort but the Mr Lomas one was just the final straw and I won’t be revisiting. I didn’t get on with the Dick Whittington yearn from the Radfords. At all. However, I’m thinking of trying out their short story volume.

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  5. These are some good suggestions for me (with two Christmas suggestions, a bonus) as I don’t think I have read any books from Dean Street Press. I have some on my Kindle, but haven’t actually read them. I do appreciate that they make their e-book versions a reasonable price. And I now see that some Anne Morice books are coming out soonish and I would like to try reading those again.

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  6. I can’t quite remember all the DSP novels I’ve read… But from memory my favourite is Ianthe Jerrold’s ‘Dead Man’s Quarry’. I can’t quite remember if the Ludovic Travers mystery I read was ‘Dancing Death’ – but I recall feeling underwhelmed. 😣

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  7. Well, obvious what my first twenty would be (thirty soon) but I’d recommend more Vivian. Really enjoyed The Threefold Cord. Also highly recommend The Case Of The Dead Shepherd from Bush, one of the few GA school mysteries set in a state school, rather an a private one.

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  8. Well, I have only 26 DSP in print but I know I have more as e-books because I think most of my Punshon are there. and I agree with TomCat on Punshon—I like those very much.
    As I’ve struggled with Flynn at times, though, I would put Tread Softly right near the top because I liked it so much after not liking Creeping Jenny one bit.
    And—again agreeing with TomCat—I really like Bush but especially the 3 WWII based books so any of those might be near the top.
    I’m still behind on the TBR list (due in part to subscribing to Coffee and Crime so thank you) but hoping to get to the Jerrold next.

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