Book of the Week, detective

Book of the Week: Murder by Matchlight

The world keeps changing – and as the uncertain times continue, I’m still all about resolutions. And as I mentioned briefly last week; along with romances, murder mysteries give you resolutions and at the moment I really need it to turn out alright in the end. Murder by Matchlight was my second E R C Lorac in about a week and I liked it as much as I liked the first – and I nearly wrote about Murder in the Mill Race last week, but I was trying to mix it up a little bit from the stream of mysteries, so today you get two reviews in one.  A quick note: I started writing this ahead of time, and we’ve now moved into a lockdown situation in the UK – where bookshops are shut and people should not be going outside unless absolutely necessary. I’m making an adjustment to how I link out to books – I’m providing ebook links where available, and telling you what the likelihood that your local indie would be able to source it if they’re still open. Please support small booksellers where you can.

Copy of Murder by Matchlight

Murder by Matchlight is set in 1945, when Bruce Mallaig witnesses a murder while walking after the blackout in Regents Park. He is sitting on a bench when he sees two men acting suspiciously on a footbridge – and then one of them is murdered. His only glimpse of the killer as a flash of a ghastly face by matchlight just before the crime. CID detective Inspector MacDonald is called in to investigate and needs to try and work out how the murderer managed to appear and disappear in silence.

It is not often in a murder mystery when there is actually a witness to the killing who sees the murderer – Agatha Christie’s The 4.50 from Paddington is one and beyond that I’m struggling. There are more where there are witnesses to the actual death – but not many who see the murderer. This is clever and atmospheric, with a really interesting cast of characters and suspects. I was reading this early last week though and the wartime setting – including air raids and it was ever so nearly tense for me – even though we were pre-lockdown at that point.  It was still the best thing I read last week – but the tension is worth bearing in mind if you’re feeling anxious at the moment.

But if you are feeling anxious, I can thoroughly recommend Murder in the Mill-Race – also by Lorac, which I read the previous week and got beaten to Book of the Week by Love Hard, in part because of my recent reliance on British Library Crime Classics. This also features MacDonald – now a chief inspector – but is set in Devon. Raymond Ferrens and his wife have moved to a picturesque hilltop village where he is taking over as the local doctor. At first it seems perfect – but as is often the case they soon find out that there are currents and tensions below the surface. Most of them an be traced  back to the influence of Sister Monica, who runs the local children’s home. Although almost no-one will say a word against her, a few months after their arrival, she’s found dead in the mill-race. MacDonald is called in to try and find out what happens – but finds a wall of silence from the close knit villagers. This has all the best bits of Murder by Matchlight – but seems less applicable to current life so may be more enjoyable for the anxious. I certainly really liked it.

It seems there are a lot of books featuring Inspector MacDonald, these two are numbers 26 and 37 in the series. There are a few of them available – but it’s a bit of a lottery – they’re across several different publishers and some have been retitled – Goodreads tells me that Murder in the Mill-Race was originally Speak Justly of the Dead. I will be looking for more. Murder by Matchlight is available on Kindle for £2.99 and also in paperback. The same applies to Murder in the Mill-Race – which is currently £2.99 on Kindle, but this one is included in Kindle Unlimited if that’s something you’re a a part of. They don’t seem to be available on Kobo. British Library Crime Classics are stocked by a lot of booksellers and this one seems to be still in print – Heffers had lots of Murder by when I bought this – so if your local indie is taking phone orders, then they may be able to help you. I’ve also just picked up Death Came Softly from the series for 99p – I’ll try and keep you posted on what I think.

Keep reading – and please stay safe.

Book of the Week, detective

Book of the Week: Answer in the Negative

Another week, another crime pick. I know. Sue me. At least I read this in March so that makes it one crime recommendation a month which is not quite so bad. Or am I grasping at straws? It wasn’t even the only classic crime book I read last week – I also read Seven Dead by J Jefferson Farjeon, which is another in the British Library Crime Classics series, which I have recommended a lot. This one however is from Agora books, who are also have a lot of more forgotten mid-century crime on their lists, including the Inspector Appleby series, which I have read a couple of, and some of the lesser known Margery Allinghams. Anyway, I stumbled across  this little gem last week and I’m unreasonably annoyed that none of the author’s other books seem to be available anywhere.

Answer in the Negative is a 1950s-set murder mystery, featuring a crime solving couple. It’s not the first in the series as it turns out, so I’m not quite sure how they came to be a thing, but Johnny is an ex-Commando and Sally is his wife. His family have a shop that sells books and he works there when he’s not solving mysteries. This particular mystery is a poison pen set in the National Press Archives on Fleet Street. Toby Lorn, a friend of the couple, asks them to investigate letters that are being sent to one of the archive assistants. Frank Morningside is not popular in the office, so the pool of suspects is fairly large. As well as increasingly nasty letters, there have been schoolboy-style pranks.  Johnny and Sally start investigating at the archives, posing as researchers, but just days into the investigation, things take a sinister turn.

This is a well put together mystery, which a good and varied cast of characters. I really like office-set mysteries – Murder Must Advertise is one of my favourite of the Peter Wimsey series. You get to find out what working life was like in the period and I like that there’s a cast of characters to draw from a bit like a country house mystery. But unlike country house mysteries the cast tends to be a bit more varied – less toffs with a grudge, more people from across the social spectrum. This is no exception – you’ve got office boys, young women on the lookout for a husband, stuffy spinsters, ex-soldiers and more. It makes for an intriguing mystery and although I developed suspicions about the culprit it has plenty of twists to keep you guessing. My only real problem with it was that it felt like it was set in the interwar period – whereas actually it was set in the 1950s. If it wasn’t for mentions of bombsites and the fact that Johnny was a Commando (who were only created in World War II) it could have been in an office two doors down from Pym’s Publicity.

This edition Answer is in the Negative came out towards the end of February, and I read it via Kindle Unlimited, but it’s also available to buy on Kindle. I can’t seen any other editions (except for super-pricey secondhand/collectible ones) and I can’t find it on Kobo either sadly. But if you’re a Kindle reader – especially one with unlimited – it’s worth it. I’m hoping that the recent release date means that more of the series will appear at some point too.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, detective

Book of the Week: The Division Bell Mystery

It was a bit of a post-holiday come down week in reading, in fact I only bought The Division Bell Mystery in Cambridgeon Sunday, but I read it on Sunday afternoon and evening and it was so good. And also, in case you missed it, it’s an important week for the British Parliament this week, so it seemed an apt pick.

Copy of The Division Bell Mystery

When a wealthy American businessman dies while having dinner inside Parliament, at first it looks like suicide, while he was alone in the room as voting was taking place but the evidence doesn’t add up.  Soon a young parliamentary private secretary plays amateur sleuth to try and work out what happened. This is a classic locked room myster, although I think you might need a bit of knowledge of how the House of Commons work for this to make sense. The Division Bell of the title is the bell that rings across the Palace of Westminster (and in some nearby drinking establishments) when MPs are called to  go and vote (which is called a division because they divide into two lobbies, the Ayes and the noes) but for the most part Ellen Wilkinson has explained everything you might need to know.  In fact Wilkinson, was one of the first female MPs and so the book is filled with insider details about what Westminster was like in the 1930s – and more than a few digs at the male-centric nature of it all.

I love a Golden Age crime novel as you know, and locked room mysteries are always fun. This is quite traditional/of its time in terms of structure – friendly cop, amateur detective with some skin in the game, tame reporter, but that’s probably to be expected! I basically read this in one sitting, which tells you a lot as well. Wilkinson is a fascinating person even before you add writing a Murder mystery into the mix (go google her) and on the basis of this, I wish she’d written more. The Division Bell Mystery is part of the British Library Crime Classics series – which is a fairly reliable source of forgotten mystery stories – I’ve featured several others as BotW before* – some are great, sometimes you can see why they might have been forgotten!  Heffers had a whole load of them on Sunday and they were on 3 for 2, so of course I got three.

If you’re not going to Heffers, then you should be able to find a copy from all of the usual sources as well as on Kindle (£2.99 at time of writing).  Most bookshops will have a selection of the British Library Crime Classics too if they don’t have this one.  I also recommend Murder Underground by Mavis Doriel Haye – which seems to be one of the more commonly stocked books in the line.

Happy Reading!

*Previous BotW’s from the series include: The Sussex Downs Mystery, Death of an Airman, and The Cornish Coast Murder – all of which you can see in the photo of the Heffers display and Silent Nights, which I don’t think you can!

Shelf of British Library Crime Classic books and other mysteries

 

Book of the Week, detective, Uncategorized

Book of the Week: A Case of Murder in Mayfair

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.

Cover of A Case of Murder in Mayfair

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.

Happy Reading!

Authors I love, Book of the Week, detective, new releases

Book of the Week: Death of an Angel

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 previous outings 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.Cover of Death of an Angel

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 (remember them?!) 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…

Happy Reading!

Authors I love, detective, mystery, Series I love

Series I love: Roderick Alleyn

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!

Shelf of Ngaio Marsh omnibuses
Omnibus two is on loan to my dad. I think. I hope.

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…

Audible screengrab showing Ngaio Marsh novels

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!

Happy Reading!

*Keen Marple readers/viewers will spot what those two characters have in common, which is why they sprung to mind!

Cover of Money in the Morgue by Ngaio Marsh and Stella Duffy

Book of the Week, detective, Forgotten books, mystery

Book of the Week: Cast, In Order of Disappearance

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.

Happy Reading!