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Vintage Crime Shorts – The End is Nigh!

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dead witness

Yes, I’ve *finally*, after much reading spread out over quite a time, come to the end of the “Dead Witness” collection of Victorian detective stories. It’s been great fun reading them, and certainly some of the best have been kept until the end!

Robert Stephens as Max Carrados

Robert Stephens as Max Carrados

The Tragedy at Brookbend Cottage by Ernest Bramah

Bramah’s story features a classic sleuth who I believe is still loved by connoisseurs, but whom I’ve only recently come across – the blind detective, Max Carrados. In fact, I found that I had a collection of tales of the latter knocking about in an old green Penguin I’ve never read, and on the evidence of this one, I’d like to read it soon! Carrados, because of his lack of sight, has other heightened senses – smell, hearing, etc – and he’s assisted by a loyal manservant, Parkinson, and his friend Carlyle, an ex-solicitor. The mystery here is in fact an attempt to stop a murder – the sister of a Lt. Hollyer has married a man older than herself, and Hollyer suspects him to have designs on the sister’s life so as to inherit her cash. The trio investigate what appears to be an ingenious plot, but tragedy ensues in a way they could not have predicted! This was an excellent, pre-Golden Age story: the central characters are engaging, the plotting clever and the story very atmospheric. Off to track down my green Penguin…

The Case of Padages Palmer by Harvey O’Higgins

A different type of adventure here, in that the story is more a hard-boiled tale, told from the point of view of a teenage detective, one Barney Cook. Barney, whose later father was a policeman, is a streetwise youngster in New York who manages to get taken on by a detective agency, run by Walter Babbing. A con-man has been rooking innocent people out of their cash and is thought to have headed for New York, and through Barney’s eyes we watch Babbing and his team tracking down and setting up the con-man. It’s an unusual and engaging way to tell the story; and Barney is a convincing and entertaining character. This is a more down-to-earth type of detection, rooted more in reality, but nonetheless very readable and great fun – I’d definitely like to track down more of O’Higgins’ tales.

Author Anna Katherine Green

Author Anna Katherine Green

An Intangible Clue by Anna Katherine Green

Last but not least, one of the big hitters in the world of detective fiction – Anna Katherine Green, author of “The Leavenworth Case”, the first proper detective novel by a woman (and one which I shamefully haven’t yet read….) “An Intangible Clue” features Green’s detective Violet Strange, a society lady dabbling in detective work to support a disinherited sister. There has been murder, of an old lady who lived in solitude in a non-residential area; no witnesses, no evidence and no apparent way to track down the perpetrator. Violet is sniffy and uninterested, thinking this kind of sordid murder beneath her, but her boss Mr. Driscoll manages to pique her curiosity enough to get her to look into the murder. Her guise as a frivolous socialite stands her in good stead when looking round the premises and she comes up with an ingenious solution – but will it help the police to track down the killer?

Green is obviously an excellent writer, and I never would have guessed the solution she came up with. And having an upper-class, fussy woman detective is great fun – it’s amusing to see her manipulating people’s expectations of her to get the information she wants. Obviously “The Leavenworth Case” is going to be worth tracking down.

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So – I’ve finally got to the end of “The Dead Witness”. Reading it has been a really rewarding experience, as I’ve discovered a lot of wonderful writers I was unaware of, revisited some I knew and loved, and watched the development of the art of the detective story from its inception to its glory days. I’d highly recommend this book to anyone who adores reading mysteries, and I shall miss having it to pick up and dip into.

A Quick Round-Up and Update!

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As a new month dawns and autumn starts to hit (I like autumn!) I thought I’d update and take a quick look back at August’s reading. I got through a surprising amount of books, many of which I actually planned to read – which is quite unheard of really, and also some nice re-reading. There were two challenges I dropped into during the month – Women in Translation month and the LibraryThing Virago Group’s All Virago/All August.

virago press logo

To take Women in Translation first, I actually read several books from that category as follows:

Paris Tales¬†(I’m counting this as it contains a Colette!)
Tove Jansson – Moominpappa at Sea
Colette – The Blue Lantern
Irmgard Keun – Child of All Nations
Francoise Sagan – A Certain Smile
Clarice Lispector – The Hour of the Star

This was a really enjoyable challenge and one I could quite happily dip into regularly!

For All Virago/All August (where we include¬†Persephones as well as Viragos) I didn’t do quite so well, only managing a few titles:

Eleanor Graham – The Children Who Lived in a Barn
Rosamund Lehmann – The Swan in the Evening
Diana Gardner – The Woman Novelist and Other Stories

Of the three, my favourite was definitely the Gardner book which I loved to bits.

Current reading involves the Big Books, with which I am making reasonable progress – I have got to the end of the first part of “Our Mutual Friend” and am loving it. Don Quixote is funny, but best in short bursts; and the Ballard and Aldiss short stories are marvellous, the hardest thing being not to gobble them up. Poetry-wise I’ve finished book two of the Penguin Modern Poets; and I confess I’ve sidetracked into a couple of other books, reading a review volume for SNB, and also “Howard’s End is on the Landing”, which I couldn’t resist.

dead witness

I’ve also finally come to the end of “The Dead Witness”, the anthology of vintage crime I seem to have been making my way through for ages. It’s been a wonderful read and the last two sets of three stories will be reviewed here shortly. However, looking up one of the detectives set me off on a rather frustrating rummage through my bookshelves, as I was reminded of the collections of stories entitled “The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes”. Back in the day I vaguely recall some of these being televised (I was too young to watch them) and in my early crime reading days I owned copies of the “Rivals…” books. However, a lot of digging about on shelves of double stacked books convinced me I must have discarded them at some point – which is very, very annoying….

But there *was* a bit of serendipity involved, because whilst digging I came across this:

forties
A lovely Penguin Poetry anthology for the collection which I’d forgotten I had, and I probably bought for the lovely John Piper cover. So all is not lost, I’ve added it to the heap (which now looks like this)

updated poetry

and I shall be keeping my eye out for any “Rivals…” books on my travels!

Vintage Crime Shorts: Another Duo of Tales

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Time for a little more vintage crime – because I must confess that I have several book hangovers at the moment and can’t really settle to anything of substance! However, murder mysteries are always good as mental palate cleansers!! I’m gradually reading my way through the lovely “Dead Witness” collection and this time round there were two tales – Arrested on Suspicion by Andrew Forrester Jr. (1864), and the title story, The Dead Witness: or, The Bush Waterhole – W.W. (Mary Fortune) (1866).

These stories were very different from each other and of the two, I definitely preferred the second. Forrester’s tale is narrated by John Pendrath, who lives with his sister Annie. After a new lodger moves into their building, with a slightly dubious air about her, John and Annie notice she has a visitor (her daughter?) who might be mistaken for Annie. Then his sister is arrested for apparently being a thief and it is left to John to investigate. To be honest, I found the story somewhat plodding, with our very precise and pedantic detective constantly reminding us he was following in the footsteps of Poe. Much of the plot was taken up with him trying to recreate the methods employed in The Purloined Letter to find a missing communication and the rest was about decrypting cyphers, and honestly just a little dull. It was enjoyable but one of the weakest entries so far.

The_Purloined_Letter

However, the title story was much, much better and had a fascinating background. Mary Fortune was the first woman to write detective stories, and her is set in the Australian outback. A young photographer has gone missing and the narrator, a detective called Brooke, goes off to the bush to investigate. Here he runs across traces of foul play and sets about tracking down the murderer and his prey. The story was quite innovative, with excellent scene-setting and good descriptions. Fortune captured the strangeness of the outback well, and the story is atmospheric and quite shocking at some points. Fortune by all accounts had quite a lively life, ending up in jail for vagrancy and alcoholism – but she certainly made a large contribution to the detective genre!

I’m enjoying reading my way through these early tales of crime and investigation – highly recommended for any classic crime fan!

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