Following on from last week’s post, where I nominated my first choice for the classic crime Reprint of the Year Award run by the Cross Examining Crime blog, today I’ll feature my second choice – and it’s another British Library Crime Classic! I know that many, many other publishers are doing sterling work reissuing lost classics, but the BL books are the ones I read regularly and love, and so my second nomination inevitably came from that imprint! It was a real favourite, and it’s the anthology “Guilty Creatures”!

Now, I’m a huge admirer of the BL anthologies, which are always so expertly collected by Martin Edwards, so let me explain why this particular one stood out for me. Subtitled “A Menagerie of Mysteries”, the book collects together a wide range of stories and authors and the choice is interesting; there are better-known names like Conan Doyle, Chesterton, Edgar Wallace and Christianna Brand; however there are names which were new to me, such as Headon Hill, Vincent Cornier and Garnett Radcliffe. This made the collection a particularly enjoyable one to read, as I do love to encounter new authors!

The stories range far and wide with all kind of animal taking part, from F. Tennyson Jesse’s “The Green Parrakeet” in which the title bird is the key to uncovering a particularly devious crime. Then there’s Wallace’s “The Man Who Hated Earthworms“, which is a very entertaining tale of a mad scientist; Radcliffe’s “Pit of Screams“, a short, sharp story of a very clever crime; and Josephine Bell’s “Death in a Cage“, which I wouldn’t have worked out in a million years! Bell’s writing is also particularly good, and she captures vivdly a sense of place.

The fog that November night was thickest in Central and North London. Cars in the Mall, edging blindly about the wide roadway near Buckingham Palace, came to a standstill where the kerbs gave them no help. Queues of traffic formed behind drivers who, mistaking a gap in the pavement for Birdcage Walk, had jammed themselves against the railings. A slow procession moved around Hyde Park. In Knightsbridge the buses went to head to tail, scarcely moving. Further north the fog lay thickly upon Regent’s Park. The canal was invisible even from the bridges over it. No cars coming to the circles of this Park, because the street lamps there are set too far apart to be much use in fog. The unaccustomed absence of traffic joined with the blanket of fog to still all noise. Under the trees the gentle fall of drops from the branches above was startlingly loud.

Chesterton’s “The Oracle of the Dog” was a really interesting and quite dark read; I’ve always found the Father Brown stories a wee bit odd, and in this one the clerical detective managed to solve the puzzle without moving from his armchair; and he also had very strong views about the human tendency to attribute all sorts of powers and emotions to dogs! Brand’s “The Hornet’s Nest” was another treat; featuring her regular detective, Inspector Cockrill, it again flummoxed me till the end, and of the suspects available after the murder of the unpleasant Harold Caxton, I never would have picked the correct one!

Those who are quick in talking are not always quick in listening. Sometimes even their brilliancy produces a sort of stupidity. Father Brown’s friend and companion was a young man with a stream of ideas and stories, an enthusiastic young man named Fiennes, with eager blue eyes and blonde hair that seem to be brushed back, not merely with a hair-brush but with the wind of the world as he rushed through it. But he stopped in the torrent of his talk in a momentary bewilderment before he saw the priest’s very simple meeting.

And here we get to the clincher for me – there is an author I always hope to see in a BLCC anthology, and I wasn’t disappointed here. H.C. Bailey’s marvellous Reggie Fortune is present in “The Yellow Slugs“, a story in which a pair of youngsters appear to be guilty of heinous crimes. It takes all Reggie’s skills to get to the truth of the matter which is clever, chilling and quite fiendish. Reggie is a powerful creation, the story is really quite dark, and I know Bailey’s writing is considered an acquired taste, but I rate it very highly. He’s a compelling storyteller, and the Reggie stories I’ve read are some of my favourites.

“Guilty Creatures” really hits the spot; I find the British Library Crime Classics anthologies to be a particular success, and this collection was a really appealing one, with an interesting array of authors, and some wonderfully twisty plots. This was a collection I couldn’t fault, and the breadth of stories represented here made it a real stand-out in a year with a *lot* of classic crime re-issues. I’m happy to nominate this collection for the award and can’t recommend it highly enough!