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, 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, mystery

Book of the Week: Death at the Seaside

So as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, we went on a little break last week – although I’ve still been going in to work twice a week, Him Indoors has been working from home since April and has barely been further than a couple of miles from the house and he was going stir crazy and just wanted to go and see some different walls other than our own. So after I ruled out anywhere abroad (I can’t cope with the stress of the changing travel regulations), he found us a lovely log cabin to stay in in woods in Yorkshire and we pootled off up there for three nights. And this week’s BotW was purchased on our trip to Whitby – and is set in the town – so feels like a really good choice.

It’s 1920-something and as nothing ever happens in August, private investigator Kate Shackleton is taking a holiday. She’s planned a two week break in Whitby to visit a school friend and her daughter. But before she goes to see Alma, Kate takes a walk through the town and finds herself outside the jewellery shop where she and her late husband (who was killed in the War) bought her engagement ring. Determined to make a fresh memory she goes inside – and stumbles on a body. And as if that wasn’t enough to be dealing with, her friend’s daughter – Felicity hasn’t come home. Soon Kate is hard at work investigating once more.

This is the eighth book in Frances Brody’s Kate Shackleton series, but you really don’t have to have read the rest of the series to enjoy this. I’ve read four of the series so far – way out of order – and it’s not like some of the other 1920s set series (like Daisy Dalrymple or Maisie Dobbs) where there are big personal life developments that you need to read in order – or at least there aren’t in the ones that I’ve read! Kate is smart and competent and sensible – which are all things I really like in my detectives. This has a clever mystery with plenty of twists and an interesting cast of supporting characters. And I know this only applies to me, I got a real thrill about reading a book set in Whitby right after visiting the town. Brody does a really good job of describing what the town was like in the 1920s, and putting Kate in places that people who are familiar with the town will recognise. And in case you were worried: Dracula is not involved in the mystery!

I bought my copy of Death at the Seaside from The Whitby Bookshop, but you should be able to get hold of them fairly easily in a reasonably sized bookshop with a mystery section. They’re also available on Kindle and Kobo and as audiobooks. The series is still going on – the eleventh book is out in October – and as I bought a couple of other books in the series at the same time as this one you can probably expect to see more of these on the weekly reading lists!

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 round-ups

Mini Reviews from March

Such a weird month. As I’ve already said, so much has changed in such a short period of time. And yet March seems to have gone on forever at the same time. Long, like January was long, except it didn’t come to an end and we’re still living in the new world. And my reading has gone a bit to pot. Urgh. Also I wrote about quite a lot already. Anyway. There was enough left that I hadn’t already wittered on about that I can carry on my series of mini reviews from March, even if it’s not a #recommendsday post this time!. Voila:

Open Book by Jessica Simpson

Cover of Open Book by Jessica Simpson

OK so one of my main takeaways from this was that Jessica Simpson has terrible taste in men – but this is a ride and a half. If you’re of an age with me, then there’s some serious blast from the past inside early 00s pop music here as well as some seriously ditzy and Valley Girl behaviour. I watched some Newly Weds back in the day and either she was doing a very good act or her ghost writer has done a really good job on this. There’s also a lot of God and religion along with a lot of evidence of those really awful men in her life – her dad is terrible and her boyfriend choices were also not great. I really hope her second husband is everything she thinks he is. Trigger warning though – this deals with alcoholism.

Aunty Lee’s Chilled Revenge by Ovidia Yu

Cover of Aunty Lee's Chilled Revenge

I’ve written about Ovidia Yu‘s Singaporean-set murder mystery series before, but it continues to delight me, even if I had the murderer figured out quite early on. This sees Aunty Lee hobbled by a twisted ankle and fending off attempts from her daughter-in-law to take over the restaurant at the same time as investigating the death of a British expat who had caused problems for Aunty Lee’s assistant Cherril in the past. This has got a message about the perils of internet witch hunts and social media pile-ons as well. 

Love and Other Scandals by Caroline Linden

Cover of Love and Othe Scandals

Not a lot of historical romance recommendations here recently, so I wanted to drop one in here. This is a brother’s disreputable friend and Society Wallflower story and it’s a lot of fun. The relationship is a nice animosity to friends to lovers with a slowish burn and there is no unnecessary drama to keep them apart by doing stupid things. I enjoyed it. It would be a good read for those seeking to avoid high angst at the moment!

So there you are – three more book reccs to help keep you going through this current moment. And of course there’s also all the other books from last month: Legendary Children, Murder by Matchlight (and Murder in the Mill-race), Love Hard, You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams, Answer in the Negative and American Sweethearts.

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: 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

Book of the Week: The Colour of Murder

Another week, another crime pick, and another British Library Crime pick, so what if it’s been less than a month since I last picked one – I couldn’t help myself because this was so clever and so readable.

The Colour of Murder is told in two parts. The first, Before, is a psychiatric report on John Wilkins. Told in his own words, it sets out his life, his unhappiness in his marriage and his job, his mysterious blackouts when he drinks, and his flirtation with a local woman. The second part, After, is the story of Wilkins’ trial for murder. It’s really unusual for a murder mystery in that for half of the book you don’t know who the victim is and you also don’t see any detection at all. And that is beauty of it – it lets you draw your own conclusions – or perhaps more accurately make your own assumptions – all the while adding more details and information.

It’s quite hard to talk about this book because it would be easy to say too much, but I don’t think it’s giving away a lot to say that John is a massively unlikeable man. He’s unhappy in almost every part of his life, but you don’t really feel much sympathy for his because he’s so awful even in his own words. His wife isn’t much more likeable according to him, but she has all the disadvantages of being viewed through his self-obsessed eyes – as well as suffering from the lack of opportunity and independence that a stay at home wife had in the 1950s. 

I absolutely raced through this, it’s not long but it’s also a massive page-turner. The writing is so clever that I kept changing my mind about what was happening. I read it via Kindle Unlimited but it’s also available to buy from all the usual sources.

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

Book of the Week: The Crime at Black Dudley

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.

Cover of The Crime at Black Dudley

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!