Book of the Week, Forgotten books, mystery

Book of the Week: The Secret of High Eldersham

Back with another murder mystery again this week. It’s another British Crime Classic, but it’s a new to me author so that makes variety right?!

Scotland Yard are called in to investigate the murder of the landlord of a pub in an East Anglian village known for its insular nature and hostility to outsiders. Samuel Whitehead was a stranger to the neighbourhood, but somehow he seemed to be making a reasonable go of it – right up until the point that someone stabbed him in is own bar around closing time one night. Detective Inspector Young is struggling to make inroads in the case, so he calls on a friend and amateur sleuth, Desmond Merrion, to help him solve the murder.

This is the first book by Miles Burton that I’ve read, but it has a number of recognisable Golden Age crime tropes – east Anglia and it’s villages being a bit strange (see also: a fair few Margery Allinghams, but particularly Sweet Danger, Sayers’ The Nine Tailors, the Inspector Littlejohn I read the other week) and of course the gentleman amateur detective. Burton’s Merrion has a military background – but this time it’s the navy, which is useful because there is a lot of sailing in this plot. It’s a bit uneven in places – the focus of the narrative switches abruptly to Merrion from Young, Mavis the love interest is a little bit of a one dimensional Not Like Other Girls character and the secret is, well. But if you’ve read a lot these sort of classic murder mysteries it’s worth a look – to see how someone different tackles all these things. I would read some more of these – partly just to find out what Merrion turns into and see if he evolves the way that some of the other similar characters did (but particularly Campion). The British Crime Library have republished at least one other of these so I’ll keep an eye out.

My copy of The Secret of High Eldersham came via Kindle Unlimited, but it’s also available as a paperback – which you can buy direct from the British Library bookshop as well as the usual sources.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, crime, Forgotten books, mystery, new releases

Book of the Week: The Man Who Wasn’t There

Honestly I nearly started this with “another week, another crime pick” but then I got such bad deja vu that I realised I did that last week. But it’s still true. For the third week in a row, I’m picking a murder mystery book for my BotW. But as I said yesterday, I’m in a distinctly murder mystery mood so I don’t know how surprising this news is!

Sally and Johnny Heldar have helped solved mysteries before, so when the woman that Johnny’s cousin Tim wants to marry finds herself caught up in a murder case, it’s only natural that Tim turns to them for help. Prue’s employer has been murdered and as a result she’s called off their engagement. Tim is desperate for Sally and Johnny to clear Prue’s name and win her back for him; but the more they investigate, the more complicated the mystery gets, with infidelity and blackmail and wartime treachery to contend with.

I read a previous Heldar mystery, Answer in the Negative, last year and really enjoyed it. I like Sally and Johnny as characters in both books – they have a nice relationship where they both get to do investigating. This is a previously unpublished entry in the series that the author’s nephew discovered in a stash of manuscripts. It’s not known when exactly this was written, but I would guess around the time that it was set – which is the early 1950s. The introduction says it went unpublished because tastes changed, which makes me sad because it’s too good to have only come to light now.

I’ve read a lot of mysteries with roots in the First World War and a lot set in the Wars but not a lot in set in the fifties with links to the Second World War. So this is a nice change. It’s also interestingly twisty, but follows the rules that the clues are there if you know where to look. On the basis of this, I’m hoping that more of the unpublished Heldar books find their way into the light soon.

I got an advance copy of this, but it’s actually out on Thursday in Kindle and Kobo.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, crime, detective, Forgotten books

Book of the Week: Black Plumes

Another week, another classic crime Book of the Week pick. And this time it’s a Margery Allingham that’s *not* an Albert Campion. On to that in a second, but first a reminder that there will be Mini Reviews tomorrow, and that if you missed the July Stats you can find them here.

Black Plumes starts with the slashing of a painting at a prestigious art gallery. Then the owner’s son-in-law is murdered. At the centre of the mystery is 90-year-old Gabrielle Ivory, formerly a society beauty, now side-lined by the younger generation who think she’s past it. But as the mystery develops it becomes clear that she may know more than they think she does – and she’s not going to let them ignore the threat to the gallery and chalk it up as a practical joker – even if there is a risk that the person behind them may be rather close to home.

This is a clever and atmospheric murder mystery. There are a lot of unlikeable characters in this, but also a lot of suspects – not all of whom are the unlikeable ones! You see this story mostly by following Frances, youngest of the Ivorys. At the start of the book her brother-in-law is pressuring her to marry the unpleasant co-owner of the gallery and artist and family friend, David Field, proposed a fake engagement to her as a way of getting out of it. Frances is convinced that something is wrong at the gallery but her concerns are dismissed by other members of the family – even after the murder has happened. David – whose painting is the one that is slashed at the start of the novel – is one of the only people who listens to her, but he is a bit of a rogue and some of the clues seem to point at him. I really enjoyed it – and if you haven’t read any Allingham before, this wouldn’t be a bad place to start – especially as the Campion series takes a while to settle in, which can make it tricky for people who like to start series at the beginning.

My copy came from Kindle Unlimited but it’s also available to buy on Kindle where they also have a modern paperback edition, which Foyles also has available to order but not in store pickup. This was originally published in 1940 so there are likely to be second hand copies around – but I can see from some reviews mention of racially offensive language, which as I didn’t notice it in my Kindle edition has presumably been edited out in the newer versions but which will be in old editions

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, detective, Forgotten books, reviews

Book of the Week: Smallbone, Deceased

So after a week of old favourite authors and only a few new things, I find myself back in the realms of classic mysteries for this week’s BotW pick.

So Smallbone Deceased is a murder mystery set in the offices of a firm of London solicitors. Horniman, Birley and Crane is a well established and prestigious firm – who have just lost their senior partner, Mr Horniman. Some weeks after his death, when his son has taken over his share in the firm, a body is discovered in a deed box and the firm is thrown into turmoil. Inspector Hazlerigg is sent to investigate what strongly seems to be an inside job, and receives some assistance from Henry Bohun, the newest solicitor of the firm – newly qualified and arrived after the body must have been placed in situe.

Michael Gilbert was a solicitor by training, and this is a wonderfully drawn picture of the characters of the law firm and the way the wheels of the legal profession turned in the late 1940s. I think I’ve mentioned before how much I like all the details about the advertising company in Dorothy L Sayers’s Murder Must Advertise, and this does the same sort of thing for a solicitors office. The mystery itself is very clever, although a little slow to get started, the pace picks up nicely and by the end its tense and fast paced as Hazlerigg and Bohun race around (not together!) trying to catch the killer.

I’ve read a lot of British Library Crime Classics now and written about a fair few of them here (like Murder by Matchlight, The Sussex Downs Murder and The Division Bell Murder). I find them such a reliable series for discovering new-to-me Golden Age murder mysteries. They may not all be to my precise taste, but they’re always well constructed – even in the ones when the writing style doesn’t appeal to me. And they also have a habit of rotating their titles through Kindle Unlimited so if you’re smart you can work your way through them quite nicely.

My copy came via the wonders of the aforementioned Kindle Unlimited, but it’s also available to buy in the Crime Classics edition on Kindle for £2.99. Kobo has a slightly different looking version, for a slightly higher price. The Crime Classics version is also available in paperback – and if you get a big enough bookshop you should be able to get hold of it fairly easily. You could also buy it from the British Library shop direct – where they’re doing 3 for 2 on their own books so you could also grab

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, Forgotten books, literary fiction, new releases, Thriller, women's fiction

Book of the Week: The Feast

Well it was actually a proper contest for BotW this week between this and the new Taylor Jenkins Reid book, Malibu Rising, but The Feast really impressed me and is definitely lower on the radar than the TJR. But I’m sure I’ll find a way to talk about that too – after all summer holidays are coming – theoretically at least, so perhaps there’s a sunlounger (in your garden if no where more exotic) reading post in my future!

Cover of The Feast

This one is really hard to summarise without giving too much away, and that would really ruin some of the enjoyment, but here goes: At the start of The Feast we hear about the Pendizak Manor Hotel, now buried under a collapsed cliff, with seven guests dead. The rest of the book is set in the week running up to that cliff collapse, which happened in the middle of summer 1947. You spend the book getting to know all the people who live and work at the hotel and the ins and outs of their lives. I went through the book wondering whether it was going to turn out to be a thriller, or a tragedy or something else – it’s a complete page-turner. And the characters, oh the characters. Of all of the adults, there’s really only Nancy who is sensible. The hotel is owned by a formerly genteel family fallen on hard times and who have turned the family home into a boarding house to try and make ends meet, and their guests tend to be people Mrs Siddal thinks are the “right sort” – although as you learn about them, you realise that “the right sort” may not be nice people at all…

The Feast was first published in 1949 and this is a new edition with an introduction from Cathy Rentzenbrink. Now I’ve been had by spoilers in introductions before so I deliberately skipped it before I read it so it wouldn’t ruin anything for me and I recommend you do the same because it really repaid me – both in reading the book the first time through and then when I read the introduction in giving me more layers and levels to think about. I read Margaret Kennedy’s more famous book, The Constant Nymph, a couple of years back and could see why it was influential, but didn’t love it – mostly because the characters were annoying but not in a so annoying you want to see them get their comeuppance sort of way – but with this lot, the ones that are annoying are really annoying, and you have the added suspense of whether they’re going to end up under the cliff or not! And on top of everything, the cover for this new edition is gorgeous too. I’m seriously tempted to get myself a physical copy.

Anyway, my copy of The Feast came from NetGalley, but this new edition is out now in paperback – Foyles appear to have copies at Charing Cross Road (and a couple of other London stores) and Bristol judging by their click and collect, so I’m hoping it’ll be fairly findable in the larger book stores. And of course it’s on Kindle and Kobo. Audible also appear to have a fresh version of it too – which is a bit tempting I have to say. The blurb describes this as “rediscovered” which suggests that it may not be that easy to find secondhand – the cheapest that aren’t this new edition all appear to be in the US (with the associated postage costs) so it might have to be an actual antiquarian/second hand bookshop rather than the charity shop if you want something older, but the introduction in this edition is a really nice touch – provided of course you don’t read it first!

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, Forgotten books, women's fiction

Book of the Week: Mrs Tim of the Regiment

We’re midway through March and it’s been a while since I picked something from my list of slightly quirky out of the way authors. So here we are, with Mrs Tim of the Regiment, which firmly fits into the gentle English life subset of my reading.

Paperback copy of Mrs Tim of the Regiment

As the title suggests, Mrs Tim – Hester Christie – is the wife of an army officer, in the 1930s. Told in the form of a diary, we see her navigate regimental life, including moving across the country when Tim gets promoted, and trying to make friends and raise a family. The first half of the book is more about the day to day, the second follows a holiday that Hester takes to Scotland with her young daughter to visit a friend and the complications ensue.

I’ve written a lot about the fact that I’ve been sticking to genres where I know that things will turn out ok in the end, and at first glance this might seem like a bit of a turn away from that, but this is actually very low stakes and relaxing to read. Hester is a wonderful narrator – she’s witty and observant of others, but also a little bit dense when it comes to herself. She is utterly oblivious to the fact that Major Morley is mad about her – and that he and her friend’s son are fighting over her when she’s on holiday in Scotland. This is a tricky tightrope for the author to tread, because Tim isn’t always around much and by its nature, domestic life of a married couple is less glamorous and exciting than holiday-ing in Scotland and dashing around the countryside. But I thought that Hester’s obliviousness – and her devotion to Tim (earlier in the book she worries about what to do if he is sent to India and whether they could afford to send their daughter to boarding school so she can go too because she doesn’t want to be apart from him again) means that this section is amusing and charming rather than feeling like you’re working up to Hester leaving Tim or being left at home unhappy. 

I’ve read D E Stevenson before – she’s the author of the wonderful Miss Buncle’s Book and Anna and her Daughters which I have written about before – and this has a lot of the things I liked about both of those, but also seemed to me to fit in along with books like Diary of a Provincial Lady and Angela Thirkell’s Barsetshire books. It’s essentially a slice of life story from the interwar period, in the voice of a smart woman who is running a household (because that’s what you did when you got married in those days). There are three more books in the series, and I suspect I’ll be reading them at some point in the near future.

My copy of Mrs Tim of the Regiment was a birthday present (thanks mum and dad!) and you should be able to get hold of the charming paperback edition I have from any sensible bookshop (like Foyles), but it’s also available on Kindle and Kobo.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, detective, Forgotten books, new releases

Book of the Week: Murder to Music

Another week in lockdown done. If only we knew when it would end so we could count down instead of up. I should have been in China last week, visiting little sis, so my mood was a bit low generally. I read a lot of familiar authors to cheer myself up, and so consequently the BotW options were somewhat limited as I talked about George Bellairs last week and I have other plans for some of the other books. I do like to make life difficult for myself. However, another good murder mystery cropped up – with a plot that really appealed to me. This is another re-release of a forgotten book from the mid-twentieth century – and it’s not out until Thursday, but as that’s only two days away, I’m sure you’ll let me off.

Detective Inspector Simon Hudson was at the concert to watch his girlfriend sing in the Metropolitana Choir, but when the conductor drops dead as the performance finished, he ends up in charge of a murder inquiry. Delia has told him about the tensions among the committee members, when he drove her to the committee meetings, but which one of them was angry enough at the conductor to turn a grudge into murder?

This is a clever and twisty murder mystery originally written in the late 1950s, with a setting that really appealed to me. I’m definitely not a singer and I’m not a great musician either, but I did play clarinet at school and in concert bands through my 20s. If I could have got my schedule in order (stupid shift working) I would probably be in a band now – although the band scene in my town is very competitive because the county has a really strong schools music service, so there might not be one that would have me that I want to be in! Anyway, the musical setting really appealed to me – I’ve even played at the Festival Hall where the murder takes place – and I could certainly believe in the egos and hot tempers in the choir.

I don’t think you have to be a musician to enjoy this though – I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that the resolution doesn’t require any particular knowledge of music. And committees are a fairly regular feature of murder mysteries because of their potential to be a sea of seething rivalries. The plot has plenty of twists and turns and kept me guessing pretty much right until the end as the layers were revealed. I hadn’t read anything by Margaret Newman before, but would happily read more after this if they’re all as much fun as this one.

My copy of Murder to Music came from NetGalley, but it comes out on April 16th in Kindle. I can’t see it in any other format, unless you’re prepared to pay £50 for the only copy on Abebooks as I write this…

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, crime, Forgotten books

Book of the Week: Case of a Demented Spiv

A short BotW post today, and another week, another crime pick… I just can’t help myself. Crime is also most of what I’ve been reading in the last week.

It’s pouring with rain when a spiv bursts into a pub to say that there is a dead man in a local factory. The body in question is that of one of the administrators at the factory and Inspector Littlejohn is called in from Scotland Yard to investigate when the local detective fails to make headway. What Littlejohn discovers in the small town is a tangle of divided loyalties and dark secrets.

I’m on a run of forgotten detective novels and this one is a good one. The town is cleverly drawn, with economical but incisive portraits of its residents. The mystery is well set out and even if the finale gets a little overblown, you sort of forgive it for the swashbuckling flare it shows. This is my second George Bellairs – I read Death Stops the Frolic at the start of March and I liked that a lot. My only quibble with that was that I wasn’t sure if the resolution of that one was a clever twist or a bit of a cheat.  This is equally clever, but with a solution that feels fairer to the reader and detective that I prefer – which is probably unsurprising given that this is the 14th in a long series featuring Littlejohn and I think that Death stops the Frolic was the only story featuring Superintendent Nankivell.

My copy came via the publisher’s mailing list, but it’s available now for free if you’re in Kindle Unlimited or to buy on Kindle. I can’t find it on Kobo – but they do have other books in the series available.

Happy Reading!

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!

detective, Forgotten books, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: The Inspector Richardson series

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!

Happy Reading

*See BotW posts on The Cornish Coast Murder and The Sussex Downs Murder (both by John Bude), Christopher St John Spriggs’ Death of an Airman and Christmas compilation Silent Nights if you want more on some of these.