Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Books set in Devon and Cornwall

Did I go on holiday last week? Yes. Did it inspire this post? Absolutely yes. You are very welcome.

Let’s start with the obvious: Daphne du Maurier. There are a whole host to pick from – but I’m going to go for Jamaica Inn because we drove past the turn for it and gosh blimey is the moorland there desolate and creepy – I don’t think I would be brave enough to read the book while staying anywhere near there!

Next up, previous BotW pick 1949’s The Feast – which I think is due for a rementiok because it’s so good. This isn’t creepy like the Du Maurier, but it is thrilling in a different way. Ignore any introduction your edition might have until after you have read it and meet the guests at the Pendizack Hotel in the run up to a fatal cliff collapse (and that’s not a spoiler because it opens after the collapse and then jumps back in time.

Still in Cornwall but written more recently we have Carola Dunn’s Cornish mysteries. As well as writing the Daisy Dalrymple series, Dunn also wrote four books featuring Eleanor Trewynn, a widow running a charity shop in a fictional coastal village in the 1960s. I’ve read three of the four and really enjoyed them. And this has reminded me to try and get hold of the final one!

Crossing the border into Devon, yesterday I wrote about a murder mystery tied to a fictional Golden Age crime series so I would be remiss not to include an actual Golden Age Crime novel as Agatha Christie set a lot of her novels in the county – as she lived there for many years (and her house is on my list of places to visit at some point). I’ve picked Sleeping Murder, because the theme of today is creepy and I’m still traumatised by the cover of the edition of Sleeping Murder my mum had when I was little which features a woman with a knitting needles stuck in her eye. You’re welcome.

I’ve only read a three of Ian Sansom’s County Guides novels but one of them is Death in Devon (book 2 of five) which sees the prolific author and professional know it all Stanton Morley and his assistant on a trip to the county where they end up solving a murder at a boys school. And finally I started with a creepy atmospheric book with moors and I’m going to finish with a book set on a different moor – Lorna Doone. Full disclosure: I’ve only ever read abridged children’s versions of this – and as it’s 800 pages long I’m not planning on changing that, but if you want a classic may be think about trying this story of star crossed lovers on as moor in the late 19th century.

Happy Wednesday everyone!

Book of the Week, mystery

Book of the Week: The Three Dahlias

I had a lovely week off last week and read some good stuff, but interests of not repeating myself, today’s pick is a book I finished on Monday. Yes I know it’s cheating, but the book is really good so I’m sure you’ll let me off!

The three Dahlias of the title are three actresses who have played or are about to play the same character – a legendary heroine of golden age detective fiction. They’re spending a weekend at a fan convention organised at the stately home the author lived in. But then there is a suspicious death and they have to work together to find the killer.

I mean could this be any more up my street? Honestly it ticks so many of boxes of things that I like: A murder mystery set in a country house! A classic crime connection! A group of actresses! A convention! It almost seemed too good to be true. But it wasn’t. It was really, really good. I was 100 pages in before I even realised it. I really liked the way the narrative switched between folllowing the three different actresses and I think it did really well at making each of them seem distinct. I did have the murderer figured out (or at least narrowed down) but I couldn’t figure out why so it had me partly fooled.

I loved the golden age crime tie in – from what you can work out, Dalhia is a bit of 1930s Phryne Fisher type character – glamorous and rule breaking and with a police man in tow (but written at the time) – and like some of the Golden Age detectives, the series went on being written for many years, although wisely the books didn’t move through time at the same pace as the author! And each chapter starts with a quote from one of the books and it works really well – making you want to read a Dahlia book without really ever telling you much about their plots!

A sequel is coming later this – which is both excellent news and really interesting to see if the formula can work again! I will be keeping my eye out for it for sure.

My copy of The Three Dahlias was part of my post Christmas book buying spree, so I think it should be fairly easy to get hold of in your format of choice.

Happy Reading!

crime, series

Mystery series: Christy Kennedy

For the first series post of the new year (yes I spent nearly two weeks looking back at 2022 and looking ahead to 2023), we’re going back in time to the late 1990s and a London-set mystery series from a time before smart phones and being able to google anything you don’t know.

Inspector Christy Kennedy is from Ireland but his patch is Camden, in North London and across the series he investigates a series of murders across his patch. He’s also involved with a local journalist ann rea (her spelling/capitalisation) who isn’t quite as convinced about the relationship as he is. The first book in the series was I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass, which sees Christy investigating a record producer who has gone missing and later turns up dead, but the second book, Last Boat to Camden Town, is actually a prequel where you see ann and Christy meet during the investigation into the death of a doctor found dead in a canal. Paul Charles worked in the music industry for years – managing bands, being an agent and programming the accoustic stage at Glastonbury, so when the books are dealing with the music industry – and they often are, see also the titles – it’s from an actual position of knowledge from someone who was there at the time and that’s the sort of detail that I love.

And it’s delightful – although a little bit disturbing – to see 90s London in a book and realise how much everything has changed. I mean I know that everything has changed over the last *gulp* 25 years, but this is definitely an era that I remember – although I wasn’t reading crime fiction at the time – so it’s weird to see how much things have changed over just a portion of my lifetime! When I first read these, it did send me on a bit of a 90s crime jag – if you were around this blog at the time you may remember me doing these and the Sam Jones mysteries around the same sort of time as each other – and I’ve since been picking up the Liz Evans’ Grace Smith series whenever I spot them too. There’s something about this sort of era that means that murder mysteries really work – maybe it’s because a lot of the stuff that’s been written now has gone super gruesome or psychological and I’m not up for that, or maybe it’s just that because it’s in the past it gives me a bit of a remove from stuff and means I can deal with it a bit more. Anyway, I love discovering old crime series that I missed – so do stick any more you can think of in the comments.

Buying this series is where it gets tricky – I read the first five of the series when Fahrenheit Press republished them nearly six years ago. I’ve since picked up the sixth, and have just ordered the seventh while I’ve been writing this and then there are another two after that that I haven’t read. I’m just going to point you at Paul Charles’s own website and the info he has there and hope that’s the best option!

Have a great weekend everyone!

Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Even More British Library Crime Classics

Continuing on from the cozy crime BotW pick yesterday, lets have some more murder mysteries today. After all, it’s been whole month since I recommended a British Library Crime Classic, so it must be time for some more – Happy Wednesday everyone!

Seat of the Scornful by John Dickson Carr

A very dislikeable judge is found holding a gun by the body of a murder victim. He says he didn’t kill his daughter’s fiancée but all the evidence seems to suggest that he did. Gideon Fell investigates a crime that turns into a game of cat and mouse. This is really strong on creating a set of characters that you feel that you’d understand and although the denouement feels very of its time, I did enjoy it.

Death on the Riviera by John Bude

This is another in the Inspector Meredith series and deals with an investigation into a currency racket on the French Riviera. Side note: I feel like the French Riviera gets more than its fair share of murder mysteries from this era – there are a lot of them in the Inspector Littlejohn series, as well as a few Agatha Christies and that’s just the stuff I can think of off the top of my head. If only Peter Wimsey had investigated down there we could have the full set. Anyway, this has an eccentric English woman with a house full of bohemian guests and quite a lot of the requisite glamour from the setting, but the solution is… a lot to deal with and I wasn’t sure if it all quite worked over all. Still if you like John Bude, definitely worth checking out, as it’s been out of print for yonks.

Mystery in the Channel by Freeman Willis Crofts

This is a little bit different – a seemingly impossible murder on a boat that turns into a financial mystery. The story opens with a ferry between Newhaven and Dieppe spotting a seemingly deserted yacht – and then spots what looks like a body on deck. When the crew investigates, they find not one but two bodies on board – but no sign of the murder weapon. Once the investigation gets underway, the victims are identified as two key figures in one of the largest financial houses in the country. Inspector French of Scotland Yard is called in to investigate and after a bit more digging it emerges that the firm is in trouble – on the brink of collapse. A huge sum of money is missing – and so is one of the other partners in the business. Were the dead men fleeing the country? And if they were, where is the money and who killed them? I really enjoyed this – and the denouement is really clever and fast paced. I’m not normally a boat person (save Swallows and Amazons) but this explains everything in simple enough terms for a non sailor like me to understand and yet is really quite complex. Definitely worth a look.

Enjoy the rest of the week everyone!

Book of the Week, cozy crime

Book of the Week: A High-End Finish

New year (yes it’s still a new year even if we’ve hit the middle of the month), new cozy crime series for me and something different to talk about in today’s BotW. And you know I love a cozy crime series. So here we go.

A High-End Finish is the first in a series of cozy crimes featuring Shannon Hammer, a contractor specialising in Victorian homes in her town of Lighthouse Cove on the Northern California coast. In this first book, Shannon finds a dead body in the basement of a house that she’s working on – and becomes a suspect in a murder inquiry as she went on a blind date with the victim a few days earlier – and was heard threatening him after he wouldn’t take no for an answer. The town’s new police chief doesn’t seem inclined to believe that she had nothing to do with the murder, so Shannon starts investigating herself with the help of her friends, her nosy neighbours and a crime writer who has just moved to town.

This is a really nice set up for a new series but because there are a lot of characters to introduce and backstories to set up, the detecting is not quite as well developed as you would like and I thought the solution was a bit, ho hum. BUT I really liked Shannon, her friends and the town itself so I forgive it – because first books in series are often like this – either they don’t do a good enough job of setting up the side characters or the mystery isn’t as good as you want it to be. This usually settles down in book two – especially if it’s an established author starting a new series (which Kate Carlisle is). Luckily I picked up the next book in the series (in fact the whole series so far) second hand last month (as seen in Books Incoming) so it’s a good thing I liked them and I can also go straight on to book two to see if the problems get ironed out.

It is nice to have a home improvement/contractor theme for a cozy series though – as previously mentioned, I’m a bit cookery cozied out, and as I’m not usually into the supernatural sometimes it feels like there aren’t a lot of choices for me beyond that. Still hopefully these will keep me busy for a few weeks (at least).

As previously mentioned, my copy of A High-End Finish came via one of my Facebook book groups, but they’re available on Kindle and Kobo as well as in paperback. As they’re American Mass Market Paperbacks though, you may have trouble finding them in stores in the UK – so your best bet might be ordering from Book Depository or similar.

Happy Reading!

Christmas books, detective, Forgotten books, Recommendsday

Book of the Week: The White Priory Murders

As you may have noticed yesterday, last week was very much a week of Meg Langslow. But I did also finish a murder mystery with Christmas in the subtitle: which is a perfect timing as everyone* starts to finish work for the holidays.

A glamorous Hollywood actress is back in London. Marcia Tate has returned to try and get her revenge on the theatre community who snubbed her before she was a star of the silver screen. But when she’s found dead in a pavilion in the grounds of the author of the play she’s due to star in, a murder investigation starts and Sir Henry Merrivale is called in to investigate. This is a variation on a locked room mystery, where snow plays a key role. There is a large cast of suspects but it seems impossible for any of them – or anyone – to have committed the crime. And yet someone did.

Every year the British Library adds another few seasonal mysteries to their Christmas collection, and this is one of this year’s additions but despite the subtitle, the snow is the only really festive element – I think A Winter Mystery would probably be a better description. Carter Dickson is one of John Dickson Carr’s other pen names, and like his other books all the clues are there for you to figure it out if you know where to look – and he’ll give you the page numbers to prove it! Dickson’s writing style is not my favourite of that group of crime writers, but it’s a clever enough impossible puzzle that I didn’t mind too much.

I got my copy via Kindle Unlimited, which means you won’t be able to get it on Kobo at the moment, but you could also buy it in paperback from the British Library bookshop – it’s too late for posting before Christmas, but you could pop in to the shop if you’re in London, and I’m sure it’ll be on the Christmas mystery table in the larger bookshops.

Happy Reading!

*everyone else – I’m still at work until Friday night, and it’s a really busy week.

Book of the Week, crime, detective, Forgotten books

Book of the Week: Green for Danger

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.

Happy Reading!

Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Locked Room mysteries

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.

Book of the Week, detective, Fantasy, Forgotten books

Book of the Week: Fire in the Thatch

I read two British Library Crime Classics last week, and it was a tough choice between the two – both of which are within the statute of limitations according to my own rules, but I’m going with Fire in the Thatch, because I read it quickest and I do like Lorac’s style – it’s so easy to read.

It’s towards the end of the Second World War, and a service man who has been invalided out of the forces takes a tenancy on a thatched cottage in rural Devon. Vaughan sets about putting the cottage and land in order, seemingly ready to make his life there. His landlord is a local farmer, whose son has been taken prisoner and has invited his daughter in law and baby grandson to come and live with them. But June is bored of the country and its company, and invites her friends to stay nearby, disturbing the peace of the rural idyll. And then Vaughan’s cottage burns down and one of his friends refuses to believe that it’s an accident. Inspector Macdonald is sent down from London to investigate whether there was a motive for murder.

Setting aside that I really liked the victim and wanted him not to be dead (it’s so much easier in a murder mystery when the victim is awful isn’t it?) this is a clever and twisty mystery, where I had figured out the who of the solution but not quite the why. Some of the motivation is a little of its time – sorry can’t explain more than that because of spoilers – but it’s not really any wilder than some of the stuff that goes on in some of the Girls Own stuff I read so I was prepared to go with it.

MacDonald is Lorac’s regular detective and his is calm and methodical and although you don’t always see much of his personality or personal life, he still manages to be engaging to the reader. This is one of a long series, not all of which are available on Kindle, but I’ve already written about several others – including Post After Post Mortem, These Names Make Clues and Murder By Matchlight.

Fire in the Thatch is £2.99 on Kindle at the moment in the BLCC edition, but there is another version for 99p, if you can live with the fact that the author’s name is spelt wrong on the cover. This is also the only version that I can find on Kobo. But the BLCCs do slowly rotate through Kindle Unlimited, so it may comethrough at some point. Several of the other Lorac’s are in KU at the moment though if you want to read them instead.

Happy reading!

mystery, series

Crime Series: Nanette Hayes

Am I starting a new series strand? Maybe. I nearly called this retro crime series, but I didn’t want to limit myself too much. Anyway, I have a couple of crime series in mind for this – stuff that is a little older, but not Golden Age old. And these have got a gorgeous reissue recently – which is what first brought them to my attention.

Nanette Hayes is a saxophone-playing street busker, whose mum thinks she has a proper job. At the start of the first book, her boyfriend breaks up with her and a fellow busker she invites to sleep on her couch ends up murdered in her kitchen. The dead man was an undercover cop – and Nanette ends up doing some investigating of her own to try and make sure she doesn’t end up being blamed. In the second book she’s in Paris, trying to track down her missing aunt and in the third and final novel she finds herself investigating the murder of a woman who made a voodoo doll that Nanette is given by a friend.

This are just incredibly stylish and evocative. Nanette is strutting her way through a jazz infused world where seedy peril is always lurking on the periphery. There’s just something about her that makes you want to read about her, even when she’s being foolhardy or stupid. The books are relatively short, but they pack a lot in. The mysteries are good but Nanette is the star.

I picked the first of these up a couple of months back after seeing them looking gorgeous in Foyles – and I went back for the other two because I enjoyed it so much. Nanette’s New York (and Paris) are so cool that I’m annoyed that there aren’t more of them to read. But the three there are are worth it – and you could probably read them all back to back in one weekend if you wanted, which is a treat in itself

You might need to order these in, but as I said the Big Foyles had all three of these in stock so you might get lucky. I have no clue what the original UK release was like – but I don’t recall having seen these in a second hand book store. Doesn’t mean they don’t turn up though.

Happy reading!