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: 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, crime, mystery

Book of the Week: The Cornish Coast Murder

A short and sweet BotW post this week.  I didn’t finish as much as I wanted last week – and some of what I finished was never going to be a contender for a slot here.  But the Cornish Coast Murder perked me up at the end of the week and snuck in under the wire.

Copy of The Cornish Coast Murder

The Cornish Coast Murder sees an armchair murder mystery novel enthusiast with an actual real life crime on his doorstep.  Reverend Dodd and his friend Dr Pendrill meet up once a week to talk detective fiction and open their latest delivery from the library. But one night during their chat, a panicked phone call comes through from a neighbour, Ruth Tregarthen saying that her uncle has been shot.  There are no obvious clues and the police seem baffled so Reverend Dodd starts to help investigate the crime using his knowledge of crime fiction to help him.

This is the first in the Inspector Bigswell series – and the second John Bude* that I’ve read.  This is a nice fun read – but it’s not as complex or ingenious as some of the authors that Reverend Dodd reads with his friend.  I had a fair idea where it was going – and although I wasn’t entirely right it meant that I wasn’t as entirely gripped as I am with some similar books.  But this was Bude’s fist book so perhaps that’s not surprising that it’s not perfect – and certainly the other Bude I’ve read (the Sussex Downs Murder)* was more complex – although the solution to that is rather cliched now.  Anyway – it’s an enjoyable read and a if you’ve got an interest in Golden Age crime novels it’s well worth a look.

My copy of the Cornish Coast Murder was the rather pretty British Library Crime Classics edition – so you may well be able to find it in your local bookshop.  I’ve certainly seen them in various Waterstones.  The Kindle edition is free if you’re in Kindle Unlimited or it’s £2.99 to buy.

Happy Reading!

*Editors note:  I realised after I posted this that Sussex Downs was also a BotW – back in June last year.  I am nothing if not predictable!

Book of the Week, detective

Book of the Week: Death of an Airman

This week’s book of the week is a rediscovered Classic crime novel, Christopher St John Spriggs’ Death of an Airman – first published in 1934 and now re-released as part of the British Library’s Crime Classics series.  Regular readers of this blog will know that I love Golden Age Crime (and re-listen to a Peter Wimsey audiobook at least once a month) and this was right up my alley.

George Furnace is a flying instructor at Baston Aero Club – killed when his plane crashes.  But the people who knew him are baffled – he was a skilled pilot and the plane was in perfect condition.  Although the inquest decides it was death by misadventure, a visiting Australian bishop suspects the truth may be more complicated.  Is it suicide?  Or murder?  Together with Inspector Bray a very cunning scheme is uncovered.

This is brilliant.  I’ll admit that I don’t know enough about flying (and in particular 1930s flying) to be able to tell you how accurate the aeroplane information is, but it certainly all made sense to me – and the titular death is brilliantly contrived.  I didn’t figure out all the solution until very late on – at which point I appreciated how clever Spriggs had been in dropping hints earlier in the book which passed off as totally innocuous at the time.

I’ve now read about half a dozen titles in this British Library Crime series – and have really enjoyed discovering forgotten murder mysteries from my favourite era – which in many cases rival their more well known counterparts – the Wimseys, the Poirots etcs.  The actual paperback copies look lovely (although they are a weird inbetween size) and some serious knowledge of the genre has clearly gone into the selection.  I read two from the series last week – I didn’t enjoy the other one as much, but it was clearly an important book in the development of the genre – and I’ll keep looking out for more.

My copy came via NetGalley – but it should be out now in book shops (I’ve seen and bought titles in the series in both Waterstones and Foyles usually displayed with a couple of others from the series) but if you can’t wait to get to a proper book seller, then here are some links – Foyles, Waterstones, Amazon, Kindle – although I couldn’t find it on Kobo.