Home

Seasonal and sometimes chilly crime! @BL_Publishing @medwardsbooks #BLCC

18 Comments

The Christmas Card Crime and Other Stories
Edited by Martin Edwards

It’s fast becoming a tradition around the Ramblings to spend the end of December with some wonderful Christmas Crime from the wonderful British Library Crime Classics, and 2018 is no exception! Last year Ann Meredith’s “Portrait of a Murderer” marked 50 books being published by the BL in the series; in 2016 I read and loved the “Crimson Snow” collection; this year’s festive treat is the third superb collection of seasonal short stories curated by the redoubtable Martin Edwards, and needless to say it’s a pure joy.

The book features eleven stories, some short, some long, but all very clever and twisty. All are set in or around Christmas and are arranged chronologically, ranging in time from Baroness Orczy up to the more modern tales of Julian Symons and taking in such luminaries as Carter Dickson, Francis Durbridge and John Bude. What’s so good about the BL collections, apart from the fact they’re sheer enjoyment, is that they’re also the perfect way to get to know new authors and in some cases their serial characters. For example, I’ve not read any of Baroness Orczy’s ‘Lady Molly’ stories, so the one included here was an ideal introduction (on the evidence of which I’d like to read more!) Similarly, despite having several E.C.R. Lorac books lurking on Mount TBR, I haven’t actually read them yet, and the story here has whetted my appetite.

McBride, the philosopher, was the host of the great man; and he felt bound to interfere, partly from the sense of hospitality, partly because he always likes to be desperately just. (Nobody, it has been said, has seen more points of view than McBride, or adopted less.)

The style of story is wonderfully varied too. There are traditional, country-house style mysteries; tales that veer towards ghost story territory; locked room mysteries; light-hearted jaunts; thrillers; and so much more. It’s always hard to pick favourites in any excellent collection, so I won’t; but I will mention that the Lorac was very cleverly constructed; the Carter Dickson brilliant and chilling; the Knox had a wonderful twist (as well as including a nod to Agatha Christie by naming one of the characters Westmacott); and the Symons was a most unexpected and wonderful exposition of how a seemingly perfect crime plan can go completely awry.

I regularly sing the praises of the BL on the Ramblings, and for good reason; the Crime Classics have to be lauded for bringing so many unjustly neglected authors and books back into the public eye. I always find I can’t go wrong with one of their books, and their Christmas collections are no exception. Highly recommended seasonal reading! 🙂

Glorious Golden Age Crime – with a twist! @BL_Publishing

23 Comments

Foreign Bodies (edited by Martin Edwards)

Since their launch, the British Library Crime Classics have been a source of pure joy: beautifully produced editions of lost Golden Age mysteries with stunning covers, they’ve been a massive hit with bloggers and general readers alike (and I’m very attached to those which have made their way onto my bookshelves…) However, a new collection of short stories is taking the series a little bit outside of its remit by presenting 15 Golden Age works with a difference – they’re all translated from a variety of languages!

Of course, despite the current media hoo-ha about Scandicrime and the like, translated crime fiction is nothing new – for example, the book often regarded as the original ‘locked-room’ puzzle, “The Mystery of the Yellow Room” by Gaston Leroux was not written in English! I know when I discovered GA crime in the 1980s that authors like Emile Gaboriau and Maurice Leblanc were ones that were recommended, but very hard to find. However, many of the translated stories available were from European authors, but this collection goes way farther in exploring the world of crime shorts in other languages.

This collection has been brought together by the redoubtable Martin Edwards, responsible for the BLCC editions as a whole and it seems to have been something of a labour of love. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that GA crime is cosy, English and set in little villages with stereotyped characters, but this book really goes out on a limb and is a triumph.

Each story comes with a short introduction by Edwards giving a little background context plus details of translator where this is known. A few have appeared in seminal (and long out of print) anthologies collected by Hugh Greene, whereas several are translated for the first time giving us a rare and welcome glimpse into work from as far afield as Japan, India, Denmark, the Netherlands and Mexico.

Like all of the best BLCCs this books was completely unputdownable! I can read GA crime at any time of year, but it goes down particularly well on dark, wet and windy autumn nights and there were plenty of those while I was reading the book and staying up far too late, telling myself I would enjoy just one more story before bed… All are inventive and all are marvellous reads.

It’s hard (and perhaps unfair in such a varied collection) to pick favourites, but there were a couple which really stood out for me and had me gripped. “The Spider” by Koga Saburo was a chilling tale of a devious murder in a rather unusual laboratory; and “The Cold Night’s Clearing” by Keikichi Osaki was a beautifully written, atmospheric piece which vividly brought to life the setting and events. Others were tongue in cheek, like “The Mystery of the Green Room” by Pierre Very which channels Leroux’s seminal story and gives it a very humourous twist. Many of these works, of course, draw on the Holmes/Watson template (as do UK tales of the same era) and there’s no shame in that at all – the format works so well, why change it??

So yet another winner from the British Library Crime Classics imprint – they really are going from strength to strength. And happily, I have another two lovely books from them on the TBR pile – what a treat! 🙂

Review copy kindly provided by the publisher – for which many thanks! 

Murder in the depths of winter

23 Comments

Crimson Snow, edited by Martin Edwards

I really am getting into the groove with my Golden Age crime reading at the moment. It seems particularly suited to this time of year, and the new collection of short stories, “Crimson Snow”, is absolutely perfect, featuring as it does crimes that take place in the dead of winter! I’ve read a few of the BL short story collections which have all been fantastic, and this one is again in the more than capable editorial hands of Martin Edwards.

crimson-snow

“Crimson Snow” collects together 11 stories set in the middle of the coldest of the seasons, and of course the concept of a snowed in country house lends itself well to a murder mystery; in fact several of the stories do take place in that kind of setting, and some do have a hint of supernatural thrown in to add a frisson, even if that’s eventually debunked. The stories are presented chronologically, starting with Fergus Hulme’s “The Ghost’s Touch” and ending with Josephine Bell’s “Carol Singers”, and there are a wide variety of authors. Interestingly, the majority of the authors were ones I hadn’t read before so it was really good to be able to explore new writers. In fact, as far as I can recall I’ve only read Allingham before, so this was a real voyage of discovery!

When reviewing short stories I’m never quite sure how much detail to go into, so I think I’ll touch on favourites and give some general thoughts. “The Chopham Affair” by Edgar Wallace was very enjoyable – he was astonishingly prolific and although this is probably pulp, it was great fun. The Fergus Hulme had a bit of scariness thrown in, as did “Death in December” by Victor Gunn. This latter, one of the longer pieces, was very memorable; there was plenty of spookiness and wicked deeds, and Gunn’s regular detective, Chief Inspector “Ironsides” Cromwell, was great fun.

Another treat was in the form of “Mr. Cork’s Secret” by Macdonald Hastings. Cork is the head of Anchor Insurance company, and ends up spending his festive season investigating a murder and jewel theft at a luxury hotel. It’s a satisfying mystery which ends up with the reader being challenged to find out what Cork’s secret actually is – and the solution is given at the end. Margery Allingham’s “The Man with the Suit” is of course a standout, being a wonderful tale featuring Mr. Campion; it’s reproduced here in its original, longer form and has the classic, snowy country house setting. Campion himself is a joy and reading this made me even keener to revisit more of Allingham’s work.

snowy-house

Even the later stories could be described as Golden Age, except for one slightly anachronistic tale in the form of Bell’s “Carol Singers”. This brings us into the more modern world, closing the collection on a downbeat note and a leaving a slightly bitter taste. An old lady living on her own is preyed upon by young hoodlums, and it’s a sad story; although the guilty are tracked down, it still takes us away from the slightly less realistic atmosphere of GA crime.

So, another wonderful book from the British Library Crime Classics, and perfect for festive reading. I particular enjoyed getting to know some new authors, and I think I’ll definitely follow up some of the names featured here to see what else of theirs is available – always happy to find new writers to read! 🙂

(Review copy kindly provided by the publishers, for which many thanks!)

Murder, Regency-style!

27 Comments

The Cheltenham Square Murder – John Bude

One of the most successful publishing stories of recent years is that of the British Library Crime Classics imprint. The early titles appeared in 2012, although the series really took off in 2014 when the books began appearing in striking and beautiful covers featuring vintage images. With introductions by crime writer and guru Martin Edwards, the imprint reprints lost British crime classics from the 20th century and the books seem to have been enthusiastically received, not only by crime aficionados, but also by the general public.

chelt square

One of the stars of the range is John Bude; I’ve read three of his novels so far (reviews here, here and here), and it’s something of a mystery as to why this prolific and talented author fell out of favour. His stories always feature a specific location and I was really keen to read the latest reissue, “The Cheltenham Square Murder” (first published in 1937) as I lived in the Spa Town in my teens! Superintendent Meredith, Bude’s protagonist, is still based in Sussex (as he was in the last Bude I read) but is spending time with his friend, the author Aldous Barnet. The latter is staying in his sister’s house in Cheltenham, while the lady is away – No. 8 Regency Square, to be precise. As Barnet and Meredith are collaborating on a book, this seems the ideal time to visit – but this turns out to be no holiday for Meredith as shortly after his arrival one of the residents of the square is murdered in a most unusual way – by an arrow fired through an open window and straight into his head!

Regency Square is tenanted by an interesting bunch of characters, all marked out on a neat map at the front of the book (I do *love* a crime novel with a map in it!) There is Miss Boon, a single lady with a booming voice and a collection of dogs; the Wests, who have a troubled marriage; Rev. Matthews and his sister; another young couple, the Fitzgeralds, who are plagued by their neighbour, Captain Cotton, whom nobody likes. Then there is Mr. Buller, a slightly shady character, the spinster Misses Watts, Dr. Pratt (handily placed for when there are dead bodies to be inspected) and in the poshest house Sir William Whitcomb. And of course there are neighbourly conflicts, a rivalry about the felling of an elm tree in the square, problems with Miss Boon’s dogs and all the little irritations you’d expect in a closely packed residential area.

Fortunately for the residents, Meredith is on hand when the murder is discovered and even more fortunately the local inspector, Long, had heard of Meredith and is very keen on collaborating with him in solving the mystery. So the two sleuths set to investigating, and it seems as though there will be a limited field of enquiry as about half of the square’s residents are members of a local archery club. But there are alibis, and initially lack of motives. Although the detectives have their suspicions there’s no obvious, clear-cut answer. And then a second murder takes place which muddies the waters even more. Will Meredith and Long succeed in tracking down the killer, or is the Regency Square killer just too clever for them?

Photo from http://www.gloucestershirepolicemuseum.co.uk

Cheltenham Promenade Gardens – Photo from http://www.gloucestershirepolicemuseum.co.uk

I’ve loved all the Bude books I’ve read so far (I really must catch up with “Death on the Riviera”, the only BL reissue of his I’ve not read); and this book is no exception. In fact, I may have liked it the most of them all, but that could be because of a certain familiarity with the location! I did enjoy the mentions of the local landmarks like the Promenade and the Pittville Pump Room and the Rotunda, and I recall being very fond of Agatha Christie’s “The ABC Murders” because the first killing took place in Andover (where I grew up). However, putting that aside, this is a deeply enjoyable read – classic crime at its best. The murder is very clever, the twists expertly placed and although I had a slight glimmer of the solution, it was only slight and I hadn’t worked out most of the mystery. Bude is an engaging writer, and Meredith a well-rounded character; the latter is a straightforward policeman, thorough in his detecting but with flashes of brilliance, and Barnet and Long make excellent foils. I was particularly fond of Long, with his slightly countrified accent and down to earth attitude, and even he was allowed a fair share of the detecting, as well as providing a certain amount of levity in places – Bude’s happy to slip in a little wry humour now and then (as in this wonderful description of a boarding house sitting room and the landlady):

“This way, sir,” said Mrs. Black, deferentially piloting the Superintendent into the room with the aspidistra and bay-window, a room which smelt of soot, camphor and hair-rugs. Meredith was waved into a rigid, springless armchair draped with a large antimacassar. Mrs. Black edged herself primly onto a black horse-hair sofa, carefully avoiding the silk-covered cushions which adorned it.

I’ve deliberately been vague about the specifics of the murders and plots, because so much of the enjoyment here comes from each development and revelation as it comes – and I would hate to spoil this for anyone who’s going to read it (and I think you all should if you love classic crime). Really, I can’t fault this book; it was exactly what it sets out to be, a wonderful Golden Age police procedural in a lovely setting and with an engrossing and enjoyable mystery. If the BL series had done nothing else but bring John Bude’s work back into print, it would deserve plaudits; as it is, Bude is one of many successes of the British Library Crime Classics series; they make perfect comfort reading in a nasty world, and I really can’t wait to read another!

Golden Age High-Jinks from Masters (and Mistresses!) of the Genre

12 Comments

Ask a Policeman by members of The Detection Club

Many moons ago, back in my teenage years, I discovered Agatha Christie; in those days pre-Young Adult books, she was an ideal author when making the transition to adult books. I gradually collected all of her works over the years – from jumble sales (happy memories), charity shops and second-hand bookshops. It was lovely to get a complete set, but even more exciting was the appearance in the early 1980s of “The Scoop” and “Behind the Screen” – two short stories written by members of the famous Detection Club, including Christie, Sayers and many others. I still have my trusty paperback (and I did have another of their works, “The Floating Admiral”, which I’m sure should be somewhere on the shelves…)

ask a policeman

However, a recent hunt in one of the local charity shops revealed this volume – “Ask A Policemen”, another group effort, by John Rhode, Helen Simpson, Gladys Mitchell, Anthony Berkeley. Dorothy L. Sayers and Milward Kennedy. As a bonus, the book features a rare essay by Agatha Christie where she discusses her fellow writers and an excellent introduction by the doyen of vintage crime (and current chair of the Detection Club) Martin Edwards.

The plot of “Ask A Policeman” is a dramatic one: unpleasant newspaper tycoon Lord Comstock has many enemies, owing to his papers’ constant attacks on religion and the police force. He’s found murdered in his country home and surprisingly enough has just been visited by a government Chief Whip, an Archbishop and the Assistant Commissioner of Scotland Yard! All have motives and all are therefore suspects, as is Comstock’s slightly dodgy secretary, Mills. Then there is the gardener, the manservant and a mysterious woman seen on the lawn…

A 1932 Dinner of the Detection Club -  from http://margaretperry.org/

A 1932 Dinner of the Detection Club – from http://margaretperry.org/

Because of the suspicions around Scotland Yard, the Home Secretary takes the unusual step of asking four amateurs to investigate: Mrs Adela Bradley, Sir John Saumarez, Lord Peter Wimsey, and Mr Roger Sheringham – of course nobody dares to ask a policeman! All have a wonderful pedigree as detectives, but the storytelling waters become somewhat muddy, as the Detection Club members swap sleuths! Thus Helen Simpson tells her tale through Mrs. Bradley, Gladys Mitchell tackles Sir John Saumarez, Dorothy L. Sayers writes of Roger Sheringham and Anthony Berkeley provides Lord Peter Wimsey’s investigations. Milward Kennedy and John Rhode set the scene and round up the story at the end, while the poor addled reader tries to work out whodunnit!

AAP is a wonderfully enjoyable read; cleverly conceived and written, full of red herrings, with plenty of humour and sly little digs at the various detectives and their foibles. The four central writers have great fun playing with each others’ characters and I felt that they brilliantly caught the voice of the original authors (although I can’t tell about Sir John as I haven’t read any of Helen Simpson’s work). The sleuths all have their usual milieu and sidekicks (barrister son Ferdinand for Mrs. Bradley; Inspector Parker and Bunter for Wimsey) and all their little quirks are present, but perhaps exaggerated a little. The mystery was complex and each detective came up with a different and entirely credible solution! Milward Kennedy revealed the real answer to the puzzle, and admitted that he really didn’t play fair with the reader!

As for Christie’s essay, it’s quite a revealing piece of work. Initially written to be translated into Russian to introduce British crime writers to that country, the fact that it was never likely to be read by any of the other writers allowed Christie to be unguarded in her comments about her peers. It’s nice to know she rates Sayers so highly!

All in all, AAP was an excellent read, and I’m starting to think that Martin Edwards deserves a knighthood for services rendered to Golden Age crime, what with his British Library Crime Classics involvement and this. And I believe there is another volume, “Six Against The Yard”, lurking out there somewhere – I really *must* track down a copy…. 🙂

Newer Entries

%d bloggers like this: