Another week, another British Library Crime Classic pick – and I would apologise except that this is really really good and a new to me author so I’m not really sorry.
Green for Danger is set in World War Two, at a military hospital in Kent. At the start of the novel, a postman delivers seven acceptance letters to people who want to work at the hospital. A year later, he returns to the hospital as a patient, and dies on the operating table during what should have been a routine operation. At first it is thought to be an accident, but Inspector Cockrill is sent to double check. When he is stranded at the hospital during an air raid, events start to unfold that prove that Joseph Higgins’ death was no accident.
This is a really clever and atmospheric novel – enough to make you afraid of ever having an operation again, for all that it’s set in the middle of World War Two and technology has obviously changed and moved on since then. I didn’t guess who did it – but I probably could have done if I had tried hard enough because the clues were there if you thought about it hard enough. As I said at the top, this is the first Christianna Brand novel that I’ve read – having spotted this on the BLCC table at Waterstones in Piccadilly a couple of months ago and waited to see if it would rotate into Kindle Unlimited – which it has. And if they are all as good as this, I’ve got a treat coming, even if this is her most famous mystery. And I chose my words wisely there – because she’s also the creator of Nurse Matilda – which was adapted for screen by Emma Thompson and turned into Namny McPhee, which is one of my favourite kids films of the last twenty years. And not just because it has Colin Firth in it!
Anyway, the paperback of Green for Danger is fairly easily found: in the British Library shop, and I’ve seen it in several more bookshops since that first time in Piccadilly. And as I said it’s in KU at the moment, which means it’s off Kobo for a while, but should be back there at some point.
Til Death Do Us Part was a BotW back in late September and it got me thinking about other locked room mysteries, so if you liked that, here is a selection of other similar mysteries for you to read after that. And yes, I’m being a bit cheaty because some of these have been Books of the Week – but over a year ago, so I’m claiming statue of limitations.
Seven Dead by J Jefferson Farjeon
An amateur thief on his first job stumbles on seven bodies in a locked room while robbing an isolated house by the sea. This is a clever locked room mystery that then evolves into a mad chase. I really enjoyed it and hadn’t worked out the solution until very late on, but the ending is rather far fetched – but there’s quite a lot of that about in books from this era!
The Division Bell Mystery by Ellen Wilkinson
Yes, this has been a BotW before but it’s nearly three years ago so I’m going to mention it again now, because I did read it in basically one sitting, and the setting in the Palace of Westminster makes it something a bit different even if it is quite traditional in other ways – amateur detective, friendly police officer, handy tame reporter etc. And Wilkinson knew what she was talking about when it came to the Parliamentary estate – she was an MP from the 1920s until her death in 1947 and served in Winston Churchill’s wartime cabinet.
Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
Ok so it’s a locked compartment in train carriage, but it still counts and this is the granddaddy of the genre in many ways. I’ve read it, listened to the audiobook and watched the Albert Finney film so many times now I don’t think I’m even capable of writing about it rationally, but it’s a classic of the genre for a reason, and if you haven’t read it you should.
And that’s your lot for today – Happy Wednesday everyone.
It’s the first day of June – but it’s also a Wednesday so it’s time for some more quick reviews. This is a somewhat shorter post than usual this month (who knew that was even possible) because I’ve already talked about so many of the books that I read that weren’t rereads. But I have still managed to find some books to talk about! However I would say this is very much a post of books where I have a but in my thoughts about them!
Jumping Jenny by Anthony Berkeley
So this was one I started when I was working on the British Library Crime Classic post and didn’t get finished in time because I got distracted by rereading Vicky Bliss! Anyway, this is another Roger Sheringham mystery (the next in the series after Murder in the Basement in fact) and is quite hard to write about without giving more spoilers than I should. Roger is attending a fancy dress house party where the theme is murderers when the horrible wife of one of the other guests is found murdered. Berkeley enjoyed playing with the genre and genre conventions – and if in Body in the Basement you spent a lot of the book trying to find out who the body is, in this he is playing with another aspect of the genre. I didn’t find it entirely satisfying and it’s not quite playing fair with the rules of the time either and that’s about all I can say – but if you read it you’ll probably be able to work out what my issues are. Aside from the spoilers issues, I’m not sure that Berkeley really liked women, but there are quite a few like that from his era so that’s not entirely unexpected.
Set on You by Amy Lea*
I read this in an incredibly busy week of new books so this got skipped at the time because I didn’t love it the way that I loved Lady’s Guide to Fortune Hunting or Book Lovers. Crystal is a successful curvy fitness influencer, Scott is her gym nemesis. But when her grandmother announces she’s getting remarried, it turns out that Scott is about to be part of the family. In the run up to the wedding the two grow closer, until the internet threatens to tear them apart. This is a romantic comedy where I liked the characters and I liked some aspects of the way their romance unfolded – but the start of the novel where they’re irritating each other didn’t work for me – and some of the resolution of it didn’t work for me either. But we know I have issues with pranks in novels (see previous reviews for some of the early Christina Laurens) but in between there was flirty, romantic fun with a main character who has more going on that just the romance, and a hero who is just about adorable once you find out what he is really like. Also I really liked the extended families. I will definitely watch out for more from Amy Lea.
Hotel Magnifique by Emily J Taylor*
I also just wanted to give a mention to Hotel Magnifique – which was not for me but I’m sure will suit other people. Jani and her sister get jobs at the magical Hotel Magnifique because Jani thinks it’s the way to a better future for them and an adventure as it moves from place to place each day. But behind the doors of the hotel, things are not what they seem and soon Jani is fighting to free herself, her sister and the other staff from the Magic. I was hoping for something similar to the Night Circus but YA and although it starts like that, it’s not how it carries on. I found the heroine quite hard to like, the magic is hard to understand and it all gets a bit brutal. The closest I can get for a description is the closest I can get is Dystopian YA Magic. And that’s still not quite right. I see some people comparing it to Caravel but it’s hard to tell without having read that. This has reminded me thatI really do need to try and read Caravel…
And that’s your lot. It’s a bank holiday here tomorrow, but you’ll get your stats as usual.
So I started off trying to write a post about books with unreliable narrators, but even that seemed to give too much away. So I’ve refined it to books with twists in them – some of which may be unreliable narrators, some may not be. And I’m not telling you which and equally I’m not telling you which book that I’ve recently read that inspired this because: spoilers. Anyway, this little lot cover a range of genres so hopefully there’s something for everyone.
Anyway, I’m going to start with an all-time classic from the Queen of Crime, which is possibly the first of its type: Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. First published nearly 100 years ago, this was controversial when it was published – and has been described as breaking the rules of the murder mystery genre. If you’ve never read it, you really should – and don’t worry, the rules it break don’t include the one where you have to find out who did it! You could also add Murder on the Orient Express,The ABC Murders and And Then There Were None to the list as well – but I’m sure if you’re hanging around here with me you’ll have read at least one of them, if not all of them.
Also in the classic novel section (although not murder mysteries), are Daphne Du Maurier’s My Cousin Rachel and Rebecca. They are varying degrees of Gothic and thrillers and both have both got under currents going on of various types. People will keep categorising both of these as romances, but do not be fooled – they are dark and creepy. They will leave you befuddled and wondering what just happened to you and how you feel about it all.
Next up Susanne Rindell’s The Other Typist. Set in 1920s New York, it’s about a young typist who works for the Police Department typing up confessions, and who is drawn into the underground world of speakeasies by a new typist who joins the pool. This came out in 2014 and was one of the most befuddling books I have read. Writing this has made me remember how much I enjoyed being perplexed – even if I didn’t love the ending, for reasons that I can’t go in to – so if I’m not careful I’ll end up buying some more of her books and adding further to the tbr pile!
Moving to something much less dark – and involving no murders – Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go Bernadette features teenager Bee discovering her mother’s past life after agoraphobic Bernadette disappears after a a school fundraiser goes awry. it’s funny and unpredictable and disconcerting and engaging and there is a trip to the Antarctic!
On top of these, there are also a few books I’ve written about already that might fit the bill: lets start with two by Taylor Jenkins Reid – both Daisy Jones and the Six and Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo have more going on than meets the eye. And more recently Rachel Hawkins’ The Wife Upstairs is Jane Eyre inspired, but still surprised me (a lot) when I read it last year.
Pinch, punch, first day of the month, white rabbits etc. Welcome to February everyone. Despite the fact that January is my birthday month, it does always feel like a bit of a slog to get to the end of the month, but we’ve made it through and into Freburary, which always feels like it rattles by at speed. All the usual goodies coming up on the blog this week – monthly stats, mini reviews etc. But first: a book of the week review.
In a week that saw most of my “reading” actually be revisiting audiobooks that I have listened to before, mostly from series that I have already written about so it’s a good thing that this was really good – even if it’s a sort of rule breaker because it’s not a first in series book! This is the third in the Ministry is Murder series, which features a Minister’s wife in small town Ohio. There are five books in the series – the newest of which is from 2010. In Beware False Profits, Aggie and her husband’s trip to New York is disrupted when a member of their congregation goes missing on a work trip there. And when they get back to Emerald Springs, the mayor’s wife is murdered at an event for the local foodbank – which is run by the missing man.
What I really like about Aggie is that she has an excuse for snooping – as a minister’s wife she has an excuse for being involved in the locals lives – especially as you need to keep your congregation happy to keep your job. And that’s another reason I like the series – it’s an insight into a way of life. I nearly wrote a profession, but that felt wrong – even though Aggie isn’t the one with a vocation, it’s her husband. I should add that it’s definitely not a Christian cozy – because I read one of those at the end of last year and this doesn’t have the detail of the sermons or biblical verses to reflect of that that did. Anyway there are a lot of cozy crimes featuring bakers and small businesses and the like and although Aggie also has a side line in house flipping, the ministry side of things gives it a nice twist. And the actual mysteries that need to be solved are good too. All in all a very nice way to spend an afternoon or two on the sofa.
Now because these are an older cozy (and boy does it feel weird to be saying that about something that was published this century!) they’re not available in Kindle – so in the UK you’re likely to be looking at picking them up from Amazon or second hand. I found the first in this series in a second hand bookshop – I think maybe one at a National Trust house, but subsequently I’ve bought from Amazon when the prices have been acceptable – I see that the first two at the moment are insanely expensive there though. So maybe one to add to your list to watch out for the next time you’re mooching around a charity shop!
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
A productive week in reading last week as you can see from the list. I finished the new Vinyl Detective, which was great – but I think you need to be reading those in order. Check out my review of Written in Dead Wax – which is the first in the series – and as the series has gone on, the women have become more well-rounded and developed which I think maybe means I was being insightful?! Anyway today’s BotW is also new fiction and this is actually out on Thursday this week, so for once I’m ahead of time!
Retired publisher Susan Ryeland has a new life in Greece, where she is running a small hotel with her boyfriend. But when a couple at the hotel tell her about a murder that happened at their hotel on the day of their daughter’s wedding, she is intrigued. And then when she finds out that the daughter is now missing after saying that the wrong man was convicted and that she’s worked it out because of one of the books that Susan published, she returns to the UK to try and find out what has happened. Her investigation takes her from London to Suffolk and to the pages of 1950s Devon.
This is the sequel to Magpie Murders, and although I think this will work better if you’ve read the first book, I actually liked this more. Like the first book, it features a book-within-a-book and it’s really clever and super meta. It’s also super hard to explain in a review. In Magpie Murders, Susan found herself investigating the death of one of her authors who was famous for writing a series of novels about a 1950s detective called Atticus Pünd. The books were homages to Golden Age crime, but the author – Alan Conway – hated writing them (but no one wanted to publish his other stuff) so he wove in references to people that he knew and events in real life to entertain himself. In Magpie Murders the book within the book is Conway’s final Atticus Pünd novel, in Moonflower Murders, it is an earlier book in the series, which turns out to be similarly peppered with clues. It’s a really interesting reading experience. It’s easy to get lost in the Pünd story and forget that you’re meant to be reading it because Susan is reading it looking for clues to the “real” case. The Pünd novel is a satisfying mystery – and so is the “real” mystery that Susan is looking into. It’s such a fun and also mind bending reading experience.
My copy of the Moonflower Murders came from NetGalley, but it’s out on Thursday in hardback, Kindle and Kobo. Horowitz is a big name, so I’d expect you to be able to find physical copies of this fairly easily in bookstores and maybe the supermarkets.
So while I was writing about nice escapist reading from the ‘rona, I realised that even though I’ve talked about it a lot, I haven’t written a Series I Love post about one of my favourites: Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant/Rivers of London series. Back in the early days of the blog, I wrote about the first book, Rivers of London (or Midnight Riot if you’re in the US) but sticking to my rule about not recommending later books in series, even though there’s a lot of five star ratings on my Goodreads for them, I haven’t revisited the series properly. Even though my bonus picture for one of the last weeks before the lockdown was me at a Ben Aaronovitch event for the new book – and I enjoyed it so much I had a ticket for another one which got cancelled because of said lockdown. Anyway, now I’ve read that latest instalment in the series, here goes:
We meet Peter Grant in the first book as a rookie police officer in the Met, about to get assigned to a dead end department until he sees a ghost. Yes that’s right, a ghost. That leads him into a hidden world of magic and encounters The Folly – or the magic department. This means the series is what I have described as Grown Up Hogwarts but in the Police. Over the course of the subsequent eight books (so far), two novellas, an audiobook exclusive and a line of graphic novels, he and the gang have investigated in Soho, in the Underground, in a brutalist estate, in Herefordshire and in Mayfair and so much more as he’s learned about the world of magic, River Gods and so much more.
I don’t want to go into too much of the plots, because really that spoils everything, but I will say that you do need to read these in order – there is an overarching story that weaves in around the cases of the week (so to speak), which builds over time to a crescendo that puts everything else into second place. Peter doesn’t know that magic exists until he sees the ghost in the first book – but once he’s involved and has met Inspector Nightingale (the last wizard in England) things are slowly revealed to him. Ben Aaronovitch used to write for Dr Who and I think it really shows in his skill at building a complete and fully formed world – even if he insists he didn’t have all the rules sorted out when he first started writing the series.
Now, some of you might be reading this and thinking that you don’t really do books like this, but please don’t be so hasty or so judgemental.* If you’ve read Harry Potter, then this is nothing more “hard” fantasy than that is really. Ditto if you’ve read Terry Pratchett – this is closer to “real life” than he is. If you read police procedurals as your main thing (and hello, lovely to see you if you do, but not sure how you got here) then this is really one step small away from reality – the jargon of the police force is there – down to the brand name of their walkie talkies. So go on, give it a go. I honestly don’t think anyone who I’ve recommended them to and who actually read one has told me they didn’t like them.
As I said, start at the beginning with Rivers of London. These have sold a tonne of copies, so if you’re somewhere where you can get to a bookshop, then I would be surprised if they don’t have a copy in stock. And if they’re not open, then call your local and see if they have a copy they can send you. I’m sure Big Green Books will oblige if he can too. Equally your local library (and their digital collection) should carry them – mine does. They’re also on Kindle and Kobo. The audiobook versions are read by the silky-voiced Kobna Holdbrook-Smith** and I own most of those as well. The eagle-eyed may have noticed in the photo of my shelf that I’m missing one of the novellas and that’s because before that event at Foyles, I waited for them to come out in paperback. I’ve broken that duck now, so who knows what will happen – They’ve already changed the paperback style so that furthest station and Lies Sleeping don’t quite match the previous ones, so all bets are off. Will I mix it up? Will I buy another copy of False Value when it comes out in paperback so they match?
Anyway, go forth and enjoy and when London’s reopened after all this, hopefully you’l have enjoyed the series so much that you’ll be planning a walking tour of all the various locations.
*If you’re a romance reader who is fed up of people being rude about your genre of choice, then stop now and have a good hard think about what you’re saying and how much you hate it when people do that about romance. And if you need more persuading: Sarah Wendell from Smart Bitches has mentioned (more than once) on her podcast how much she enjoys them.
**The observant of voice may recognise him from Paddington 2 where he plays the warder, but he’s been all over various bits of TV for years – and also won an Olivier award for playing Ike Turner in the original cast of Tina! (Which I’m still annoyed that I didn’t manage to see)
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.
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.
Long term readers will be aware of my love of Golden Age detective fiction, so it may not be a surprise that this is my choice this week.
Yes, I’ve finally managed to read the first Albert Campion book. And no, I didn’t realise when I was reading it that I had read it before and just not made a note of it. I’ve written about the series before – and you can definitley see why those Wimsey parody conclusions were drawn. In this Albert is a side-character who you never really get to know (but want to know more about) as he helps unravel what is happening. The main characters here are George Abbershaw and Meggie Oliphant, who find themselves caught up in the mysterious death of the host of a house party that they’re attending, and then imprisoned at the house by forces who believe they have stolen something valuable. Like many of the later novels in the series, it’s more of an adventure-thriller than a murder mystery and there are mentions of things that crop up again in later stories.
If you like this sort of caper, it’s a good example of its type. If you have an interest in the era and the genre, it’s definitely a good one to have read. I enjoyed reading it for more than just the thrill of filling in part of of the Campion story that I was missing. But, like so many first in serieses, it’s not the best of the character – I think I would still tell people to start with Sweet Danger or the Tiger in the Smoke. But if it comes your way, do not turn your nose up at it!
My copy came from the library, but you should be able to get hold of any of the Campion books fairly easily – the ebooks have been published by Vintage in the UK relatively recently and the series is still in print in paperback. On top of that you can often find them secondhand in the book section of the charity shops
Before I go, I should give an honourable mention to Christmas Secrets by the Sea though – a late entry into the festive reading stakes. As you may have seen in the comments from last week’s Week in Books, I quite liked this and wanted to like it more. I didn’t think you understood the heroine well enough until quite late on and I also I didn’t didn’t think the resolution did everything it needed to. But it was still better than a lot of the Christmas books I read this year…
Happy reading – and as it’s Christmas Eve – Happy Christmas. I hope Santa brings you all the books you asked for!