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 round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: July 2021 Mini Reviews

Here we go – another month, another batch of books that I wanted to talk about but didn’t have quite enough to say about to give them a post all to themselves. There’s romance, comedy, adventure and history here – so a nice mix.

Surfeit of Suspects by George Bellairs

Cover of Surfeit of Suspects

I picked a British Library Crime Classic for Book of the Week last week – and this is another cracker. It was actually a close call for BotW this week, but I thought I might look too one note (not that that’s ever bothered me before). A Surfeit of Suspects is the 41st (!) book in the Inspector Littlejohn series, and concerns an explosion at a joinery company, that kills three of the company’s directors. The company itself is teetering on the brink of insolvency and there is a suspicion that the explosion may have been an insurance job on a rather spectacular scale. But why would the firm have had any dynamite to explode if it hadn’t been planted there. And why had the previously profitable firm fallen so far? There is potential fraud and corruption, but also personal rivalries and love affairs. There’s also a lot of focus on the local banking eco-system – which as Bellairs had worked in a bank, he was very well placed to write. And despite the fact that banking has changed a lot in the fifty plus years since this was published, it’s all easy to follow – and actually quite informative for those of us who have grown up in the era of big banking chains. Oh and it’s a good solution too. I got it on Kindle Unlimited, but it’s also available in paperback.

The Lock In by Phoebe Luckhurst*

Cover of The Lock In

I keep talking about the summer reading post (I promise it is coming) and this was a contender for that, but it’s a little too domestic for a sunlounger read. Or at least it is for me, so I’m writing about it here instead. Ellen, Alexa and Jack are housemates. They’re also locked in their attic on a Saturday morning, with terrible hangovers and Alexa’s Hinge date from the night before. Why are they locked in the attic? Well the kitchen is flooding and they were looking for the way to switch off the water when the handle broke off the attic door. They only have one phone – and it’s Jacks that’s very low on battery and the signal is poor. But he’s mostly live tweeting the situation. Ben and Alexa are getting to know each other, and Ellen is becoming convinced that she’s met Ben before.  Will they get out? Will they still be friends when they do – and will they survive the wrath of their landlord? I think I’m a little too old for this – I did my dating before apps were a thing – but this is a funny portrait of possibly the worst hangover ever. I was sort of expecting more romance, but it’s much more of a comedy than it is a romantic comedy. Worth a look. Newly out this summer – should be fairly easy to get hold of.

The Camelot Caper by Elizabeth Peters

Paperback copy of The Camelot Caper

This one is probably only worth a look for Elizabeth Peters completists. This is from the very late 1960s and is interesting because it’s sometimes listed as a prequel to the Vicky Bliss series. It’s much less connected to that than that makes it seem – basically the connection is to “Sir John Smythe” in a way that I can’t reveal without giving some big old spoilers for Vicky Bliss. And it’s quite a minor connection – so don’t go into this expecting lots of him. And if you’ve not read Vicky Bliss (or Amelia Peabody to which its even more tenuously linked) then it’s just a late 1960s thriller-slash-cozy-mystery with no murder but a lot of chasing around Britain by an American Tourist, who is being hunted down by mysterious thugs, and the charming Brit who is helping her out. Your mileage on that may vary. I’m glad I read it, but if I’d read it first, I probably wouldn’t have read the rest of the Vicky Bliss series, and that would have been a shame. Second-hand only, and no ebook.

Hellions Waltz by Olivia Waite

 Cover of The Hellions Waltz

Sophie’s family has moved to a new town to start over after they were taken in by a conman who ruined their business. Maddie is busy planning to ruin the draper who has been cheating and defrauding the local weavers for years. When recently cheated Sophie sees that Maddie has some sort of con going on, she starts to investigate. And of course the only thing for Maddie to do to distract her is seduce. And it all goes on from there. The middle book in this trilogy, The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows was a BotW pick here earlier this year, but be aware the connection between three books is looser than you usually see in romance series – there’s barely any mention of the previous leads, and there was nothing in the previous book to mark out who was going to feature in the next (if you know what I mean) or if there was it was so subtle that I missed it. The link between them is women with a craft or a passion – in this case a musician and a silk weaver. But this was a fun read – I liked all the details about the various pianos and about the silk reading, and the denouement – although fast – is satisfying.

Meet the Georgians by Robert Peel*

Cover of Meet the Georgians
I’m including this one in here because I think if you don’t know anything about the Georgians, this would be a good introduction to some of the characters in it – and also to the idea that the Victorians were the prudish ones and that life before that was much more interesting/racy! For me (degree in history in which I mostly did post 1700 stuff in Britain, France and wider Europe) there wasn’t a lot new here. But that said: I like the idea, and the choices of who to feature are good because the people are fascinating, but the writing style is strangely uneven – at times it feels like the author is wants to emulate Greg Jenner‘s chatty informal style but is trying to hard and it’s only in patches before it reverts to something more standard for a history book. It’s still very accessibly written in the rest of it, but it has these weird bits where it all sounds a bit “how do you do fellow kids”. For me, the introduction also spoilt a bit of the fun/mystery of finding out who the people were – a lot of the key details were in there. Thinking about it, it’s a bit like a history essay in book form: here is my theory, here is the evidence for my theory, here is my conclusion with a reminder of my theory and a look ahead. Additionally the cover is a bit out of step with the audience I feel like it’s trying for. Great idea and if you’re a newbie to the era, it will probably work better for you than it did for me!

 

In case you missed any of them, the Books of the Week posts in July were Empire of Pain, The Guncle, Bring Your Baggage and Don’t Pack Light and Smallbone Deceased. And finally, just to complete the link-fest, here are the links to the mini reviews from January, February, March, April, May and June.

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, 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.