Just a short BotW this week, because as I said yesterday it’s been A Week. And I don’t see this one being any less busy. Anyway, this second Freddy Pilkington-Soames mystery was what I needed on the late nights trains last week.
I read the first in this series back in February last year . And I said then in my review on Goodreads that the premise was basically a slightly less stupid Bertie Wooster accidentally solves crimes and I stand by that assessment. Freddy is a somewhat hapless reporter for a London newspaper, where he got the job because of his mum’s connections. In the first book he’s trying to solve the murder because he stumbled upon the corpse and is keen not to be the prime suspect. In this he’s off duty at a party with a friend when the actress-hostess falls to her death from the balcony of her hotel room. But was it an accident or was she pushed? And then there’s the small matter of a rival reporter snooping around while investigating the cocaine trade in London.
This mixes elements from not just PG Wodehouse, but also a bit of Death Bredon from Sayers’ Murder Must Advertise and a touch of nosy Nigel Bathgate from Inspector Alleyn. And it all works out rather nicely. There are not a lot of surprises here and it’s not doing anything groundbreaking or original but you’ll enjoy it while you’re reading it – just like you do with a contemporary-set cozy crime novel. I could nitpick but that would be mean and this series (or what I’ve read of it) is not mean.
You can get A Case of Murder in Mayfair on Kindle – where it’s currently 99p – and Kobo or in paperback where it’s not 99p! Or you can start at the beginning of the series and read A Case of Blackmail in Belgravia – which is free on Kindle as I write this.
It’s Danny Bird time again! The eagle eyed amongst you may have spotted my copy of Death of an Angel on the Week in Books post and suspected what today’s pick might be. Danny’s previousoutings have featured on this blog before, and I was lucky enough to do an interview with Derek Farrell before the release of book three. I’ve been looking forward to reading this since the end of book three, and tried to subtly badger Derek to hurry up and write quicker when I met him in person (for the first and I hope not last time!) at the Polari Salon in London last summer where he was giving a reading. I was lucky enough to get my hands on an advance copy (the first advance copy?) of Death of an Angel, which is out on the 28th and it was a total no-brainer for it to be this week’s Book of the Week.
In case you haven’t read about Danny before, he’s the landlord of the possibly the most unlikely gay pub in (south) London. The Marq is owned by a gangster and has a seriously chequered past – including at this point, several bodies turning up at inconvenient times. His best friend is the champagne swilling, possibly alcoholic, definitely going to tell you exactly what she thinks Lady Caz and he’s got a slightly tricky relationship going on with a policeman. He’s also got a developing reputation for solving mysteries.
We rejoin the gang at the start of Death of an Angel, when Danny’s name is found written on the hand of a woman who has fallen from a tower block. To make matters worse, the pub’s phone number is in her contacts list, so of course the police haul him in for questioning. Trouble is, Danny has no idea who she is. The police seem strangely reluctant to believe this and soon Danny is investigating what led to Cathy Byrne’s fall from the ninth floor. At the same time, Danny is doing a touch of investigating for his solicitor and there are major ructions going on in his family – as his siblings are convinced something is wrong in their parents’ relationship. And don’t even get started on the boyfriend front.
Death of an Angel takes us away from the Marq – for once this death isn’t threatening Danny’s livelihood (only his freedom!) and so there’s less of Ali the bar manageress and the Asbo twins, but don’t worry – there’s a limit to how many bodies can turn up at a business and it remain solvent (no matter what the cupcake bakeries over in the cozy crime genre would have you believe) and it’s great to see Danny stretch his wings in his south London home neighbourhood. This is a great mystery – fast-paced and with enough twists and turns to keep you guessing. And the fabulous banter is still there – I mean what’s not to love about a hero who refers to himself as “Sherlock Homo”? Or has lines this:
You know how, when people say someone’s ageless they usually mean ‘eternally youthful’ and not ‘looks so old it seems impossible that he could still be living without the age of Necromancy’?
But there’s also a serious side to this. There are some proper social issues here: Danny’s investigation touches on gentrification, house prices, dodgy developers, dubious councillors lining their own pockets and high-end flats sitting empty because they’ve been bought as an investment by the rich, while people from the area are being forced out by a lack of affordable housing and high rents. That all makes the book sound serious and worthy – and it’s totally not. This is the best of Danny – mysteries with a conscience, that will entertain you but also make you think without clubbing you over the head with A Message.
It’s taken a long time for this fourth instalment to arrive, I really hope we don’t have to wait as long for another. Death of an Angel is published by Fahrenheit Press (rememberthem?!) and should be available from their website and from Amazon from the 28th. That’s a week on Thursday. I’ll try and remind you…
Now I’ve written about Albert Campion as well as Peter Wimsey, it would be remiss of me not to write about Ngaio Marsh’s brilliant creation, not least because I spend as much time re-reading or re-listening to the Roderick Alleyn mysteries and watching the BBC TV versions while I iron as I do revisiting Wimsey or watching Miss Marple. And as I have now finished reading the series, having treated myself to the last omnibus in the January sales, this is an even better time to write about them!
In some ways, Roderick Alleyn is another of the gentlemen detectives so popular in Golden Age detective fiction – he’s a well-educated younger son of a baronet, born in the 1890s and who served in the First World War – but with one major difference: Alleyn is actually a police officer. At the start of the series, in A Man Lay Dead he’s a Detective Chief Inspector, by the end he is a Chief Superintendent. A Man Lay Dead was published in 1934, the final novel came out in 1982 and the setting of the series moves with the time period – although Alleyn’s age… doesn’t really. At the start of the series Alleyn is single, but later marries artist Agatha Troy, who he first met during the course of the case in the sixth book. Troy, and later their son Ricky, pop up in several more cases, but by no means all of them -his regular companions are Inspector Fox and xxx Bailey.
Most of the books are set in and around London and the south of England, but there are several novels set in Marsh’s native New Zealand. Marsh was passionate about the theatre and the arts and several of the novels are feature actors as well as the Unicorn Theatre in London and artists and artistic circles. This means there’s a really nice variety of settings, and combined with the fact that Alleyn is a police detective, helps avoid the series seeming repetitive of like bodies are following Roderick around. Alleyn is also a more peripheral figure in some of the novels than many of the other Golden Age detectives are. In A Man Lay Dead, most of the story is mostly told from the perspective of Nigel Bathgate, friend of Alleyn and a guest at the party where a man has been really killed during a game of Murder, A Surfeit of Lampreys is seen through the eyes of Roberta Grey, visiting a family of penniless and eccentric aristocrats when their uncle is killed in a lift and there are more.
As I mentioned at the start, I’ve read all the books now, but I’ve watched the early 90s TV adaptation so many times that I’ve had to go back and do some actual re-reading of the novels as the TV versions are colouring my memories of the novels slightly. There are eight TV Alleyns – and there are a few differences from the book. The most obvious is probably that Troy is in almost all of them, with the relationship between the two their relationship builds over the course of the series. The second is the condensing and moving of the timeline – while the series starts before the Second World War and continues in the post-war period, the TV series specifically sets the first case in 1948 and moves on from there.
There are also fairly major alterations to the plots – some have less victims than their book equivalent, others have characters removed and replaced, others have extra subplots added in and others taken out. The other obvious difference for the viewer is that two different actors play Alleyn – Simon Williams in Artists in Crime, the pilot episode and the story where Alleyn meets Troy, and Patrick Malahide in all the others. Williams’ Alleyn is also a slightly different character – he’s said to have had a difficult war and is seen having some emotional difficulty with the resonpsibilty of the job – generally more Wimsey-ish than when Malahide plays him in the subsequent episodes. I have reminder set on my TiVo box to record The Alleyn Mysteries and generally have two or three saved at a time for watching while ironing. My favourites are – bizarrely – the aforementioned pilot and Dead Water In fact if you fancy it, Alibi are showing two Alleyn’s this weekend and another two the week after. They all have the added bonus that if you’ve watched any other murder mysteries (or costume dramas to be honest) of the same sort of vintage, you can spot the same people popping up all over the place – particularly the Joan Hickson Miss Marples: Emily Pride in Dead Water is played by Margaret Tyzack who plays Clotilde Bradbury Scott in Nemesis; in Artists in Crime, Rory’s mother Lady Alleyn is played by Ursula Howells who is Miss Blacklock in A Murder Is Announced. They are not the only ones, but they’re probably the most obvious*. There’s also cross over with Campion and Poirot as well as the BBC TV Narnia adaptations…
Several of the Alleyn mysteries are on fairly heavy rotation in my audiobook library. I think I’ve mentioned before that I am Very Bad With Silence and often listen to audiobooks to go to sleep to while I’m away from home. And the audiobook fan is particularly lucky with this series – there’s abridged and unabridged versions of many of the novels with a variety of different narrators. Benedict Cumberbatch has done shortened versions of three of them – Artists in Crime, Scales of Justice and Death in a White Tie – but I also like Anton Lesser (who is particularly good at accents). And if you want something even shorter there are also a few radio plays available on Audible. My favourites on audiobook are probably the Cumberbatch Scales of Justice and then Lesser’s Opening Night and James Saxon’s unabridged Final Curtain.
If you fancy trying some Inspector Alleyn, you should be able to get hold of them fairly easily – they are available as ebooks, or as the three novel omnibuses that I have and they’re often in secondhand bookshops (although not usually charity shops, the most recent editions are a bit too old). I started at the beginning and worked my way through (over the course of just under five years) but I don’t think you need to read them in order to enjoy them. There is also an unfinished Alleyn, recently finished by Stella Duffy, which is out in paperback next month and which I have on my to read pile to get to sooner rather than later now that I’ve finished the series proper. If you’re an Alleyn fan, let me know which your favourites are in the comments – and if you’ve read the “new” one let me know what you thought!
*Keen Marple readers/viewers will spot what those two characters have in common, which is why they sprung to mind!
Back to semi-normal service this week, in that there is a BotW post, albeit a shorter one because I spent the week working and then gadding about Washingotn with my sister. However after she and her boyfriend left on Saturday evening I consoled myself with books and this was one of them.
Cast, In Order of Disappearance is the first novel in the Charles Paris series by Simon Brett. Set in 1974, Charles is a middle-aged actor, with a drink problem and a career problem. But when he meets up with a previous paramour (from a seaside run in panto) he ends up getting entangled in blackmail, the murder of a theatre impresario and all sorts of other shenanigans. It’s all set against the backdrop of petrol shortages, electricity rationing and the winter of discontent which makes for a slightly different take on the murder mystery. Charles is very much in the mold of the classic amateur sleuth, and even as he’s being terrible (drinking, womanising etc) he’s still strangely likeable and very readable.
This is the first book in a seventeen-book series – which I came across because the radio adaptations popped up in my recommendations on audible. I’ve been listening to some of them – which are great fun as they have Bill Nighy as Charles (he’s predictably brilliant) but they have been considerably updated. I really liked both of them – and although the original version is probably my favourite, it does require a level of knowledge about Britain in the 1970s which may not work for modern audiences. Anyway, I’m already stockpiling more of these to read, so you may well here more of them anon.
Yes, this is short, but it’s been a busy week – and it’s about to get even busier. As this posts, I should be gearing up for a midterms overnight shift. Anyone who’s known me for any length of time knows that I love elections – so it’s a big night for me and requires proper preparation. Hence the short post. Sorry, not sorry.
You can get Cast, In Order of Disappearance on Kindle or Kobo, but the paperbacks are out of print. But the radio plays are available on audible and Kobo.
After a good week of reading last week I was spoilt for choice forBotW options, but in the end I went for a new to me author and series that I picked up in a secondhand shop during one of my lunchtime strolls through Washington DC.
Casey is a private eye. Or at least she would be if it wasn’t for a spell in jail that means that she can’t get a licence in her current home in North Carolina. What she actually is, is the person doing all the hard work for Bobby D, an overweight eating machine who doesn’t want to do anything that means he needs to leave the office. Casey’s current job is some security work for a local senatorial candidate. Mary Lee Masters decided she needed extra protection when she started getting threatening phone calls, so when she finds a dead body in her car it’s Casey she calls for help. Soon Casey is investigating some very seedy dealings and trying to keep the fact that she doesn’t have a licence under wraps from Detective Bill Butler.
Long-term readers may remember me tearing a streak through Janet Evanovich’s back catalogue, in particular the Stephanie Plum series, and that I’m always looking for books and series that scratch a similar itch. I think this might be one of them. Casey is a so much fun to read about. She’s smart and tough and knows what she’s good at – and she’s good at her job. Casey is no damsel in distress who needs rescuing. She’s running away from her past, but she knows she’s doing it and that she’ll have to face up to it some day. The mystery is well plotted and twisty and all the characters are well drawn. I also really liked Southern setting, which is so well described I can almost smell it. I’ll definitely be looking for the next book in the series.
Legwork first came out in 1997 – three years after Stephanie Plum, which makes it another older series which I’ve discovered years after the fact. Clearly I need to do some more research and digging to see if there are anymore unconventional female sleuth series from that era that I’m missing out on.
As I mentioned earlier, my copy was secondhand, but it’s still available in Kindle or in paperback if you want to take a look. In fact the whole series is available for free on Kindle Unlimited if you’re a member (which I’m not, we all know I’ve got enough access to books as it is and the to-read pile is already massive!)
If you follow my Week in Books posts, you ma have noticed me tearing a streak through Basil Thomson’s Inspector Richardson series earlier in the summer, and I’ve been planning to write about them for a while. As this is my first week away in the USA, I though now might be a good time to post this – as I’ve no idea how busy I’m going to be – and whether I’ll be able to keep normal service going on here!
The eight books in the Inspector Richardson series follow the titular policeman as he rises through the ranks, from police constable in the first book, into the detective branch and all the way up to the giddy heights of Chief Constable. They were originally published between 1933 and 1937 – which makes rather a rapid rise for Richardson – and fit nicely into the Golden Age of murder mysteries that I love so much.
These aren’t as complicated in plot terms as some of their contemporaries, but they are fast-paced and very readable. The first book sees an estranged couple murdered on the same day, later stories feature diplomatic intrigue, the drug trade, a suspicious suicide and smuggling. As he rises through the ranks, Richardson becomes more of a supervisory figure, but there are some themes that run through the series – and which get pulled together nicely in the final book in the series, A Murder Is Arranged, which I think might be my favourite of all.
What makes these a little bit different from most of the other mysteries of the time that featured a police officer as the detective is that the author, Basil Thomson was a former Assistant Chief Commissioner at the Metropolitan Police and a former head of their CID department. So the police procedural detail in this is drawn more from real experience from many of its contemporaries. Martin Edwards has written an introduction for this latest batch of reissues that tells you a little bit about the author and the context of the books at the time – although it doesn’t mention some of the more dubious aspects of his life that are in Thomson’s Wikipedia entry. However as Thomson’s been dead since 1939 I felt ok buying the books because its not as if I’m lining his pockets!
I wouldn’t suggest making these your starting point if you want to dip your toe into the world of inter-war crime novels – but then i find it hard to see beyond Peter Wimsey for that – but if you’ve exhausted Sayers and Christie, these are easier to get hold of than Margery Allingham can be and are worth a look – along with more well known authors like Josephine Tey and Patricia Wentworth and are more affordable than some of the other more forgotten authors that British Library Crime Classics have been republishing*.
The first book in the series, Richardson’s First Case is available for 99p at time of writing on Kindle and Kobo and the rest of the series are at a similar price point so if you like it, it’s a fairly cheap way of passing a few hours!
This week’s BotW is the new Poirot continuation by Sophie Hannah – which happened to come out last week too so for once my review is actually timely! Regular readers will know that I love Golden Age mystery novels (witness last week’s reading list which included the complete short stories of my beloved Peter Wimsey and a Patricia Wentworth novel) and also that I have a mixed record with continuations of beloved series, so the fact that this is popping up here today is Good News.
As he returns home from lunch one day Hercule Poirot is accosted by an irate woman who threatens him with a lawsuit because she has received a letter from him accusing her of murder. Poirot has written no such letter but is unable to convince her. Soon after a young man appears who has received a similar letter. The next day two more strangers proclaim their innocence to him after receiving letters. So who is writing the letters in Poirot’s name – and why are they so determined to accuse people of the murder of Barnabas Pandy?This has got an intriguing premise and a solution that I didn’t see coming. I read this across the course of 24 hours and was annoyed that it was over so fast. This is the third Poirot novel from Hannah and I have read the first (The Monogram Murders) but not the second (The Closed Casket) and reading my review of the first one back, I had some concerns about whether it felt enough like a Poirot story – and this one pretty much did to me. I think making the narrator not Poirot is a very good decision – as is not falling back on Poirot clichés like “leetle grey cells”. And as the narrator is a Hannah invention rather than Captain Hastings that also means that there’s freedom to analyse Poirot’s quirks and processes in a different way rather than trying to continue in someone else’s voice.
And maybe that’s why this works for me more than most of the Wimsey continuations do. I’m yet to read an Albert Campion continuation so I’ll see how one of those falls between these two continuations to work out whether that is what makes continuations work better for me. And after this I’ll definitely be looking out for The Closed Casket to read when I get a chance.
My copy of The Mystery of Three Quarters came via NetGalley, but you should be able to find it in hardback in all good bookshops and on Amazon as well as in Kindle and on Kobo. The paperback isn’t out until next year – although I suspect this will have an airport paperback edition if you’re yet to go on your holidays.