Archive for the ‘detective fiction’ Category

The Incredible Crime (book #161)

5 June 2017

Book cover - Cambridge scene, river, punt, bridge.

Lois Austen-Leigh (1931).

This is one of the British Library Crime Classics. It has the “none of the characters are likeable” problem.

Lord Wellende’s description of the “school managers’ meeting” is interesting:

” … We’ve got to get a new mistress for the village school, and a golden-haired lady has applied for the post.”
“Who are the managers?” said Prudence.
“Well, the ones that attended this morning were Woodcock and Abel Lundy – farms Stanny House Farm, you know – and myself. She got me cornered, the lady did,” chuckled Wellende. “Suddenly asked me what my views were about Clause 8 under Schedule B – or something of the sort – but Woodcock came to my assistance by asking her if she ever took a hand at halfpenny nap. And they got off to talking about halfpenny nap, which saved me; hadn’t the foggiest notion what Clause B Schedule 8 might be.”
“You must be a priceless collection as school managers – you, Lundy, and Woodcock,” laughed Prudence.
“It’s the best we can raise, anyway; the golden-haired lady evidently agreed to with you, for she declined the job; an occasional evening in the big room at the ‘Plough and Sail’ for halfpenny nap is about the only dissipation there is to offer.”

There’s some snobbery – someone comments on how the police detective’s “keen, intelligent face doesn’t excuse various little things about him … For instance, his constantly saying ‘your lordship’ to our host [Lord Wellende]”. (The Past Offences review linked below talks more about class in this novel.)

Characters are impressed by Lord Wellende not being “effete”: ‘”he gets his hair cut by an under-gardener – an under-gardener, if you please – because seventy years ago the old fellow was in a barber’s shop, and he always has cut his lordship’s hair for the last forty years, and so he always will!”‘.

Wouldn’t particularly recommend this one unless you’re a BL crime completist.

There’s a Guardian article which talks a bit about Austen-Leigh’s life. Past Offences has a fairly critical review which is worth reading. A more positive review from Bookbag.

Edited to add a link to another critical review, at In Search of the Classic Mystery.

The Lake District Murder (book #155)

16 August 2016

John Bude, 1935 (British Library reprint, 2014).

Book Cover

I was a bit disappointed by this as found it rather dull. I did like the way the detective doesn’t detect all the time: “On Sunday Meredith took a well-earned rest and spent a lazy day before a roaring fire with the newspapers and the wireless”. Also we are twice told about his “customary high tea”. I also liked the reference to zips, which makes it clear that they are a novelty:

” … Do you know what it is?”
Mrs. Arkwright shook her head …
“It’s a “zip” fastener,” said Meredith. “Ever seen one before?”
“‘How silly of me! Of course I have, now I come to think of it. Mrs. Grath next door but one has got a hand-bag that opens with one of them things. … “

Unlawful Occasions (book #150)

6 October 2015

Patricia Wentworth, 1941.

I have a cold and some stuff going on that has put me out of routine and made me reach for comfort reading, so I am alternating Patricia Wentworth’s non-Miss Silver books with DE Stevenson. I got a batch of both from the County Fiction Store and they go well together.

Cover of Unlawful Occasions

This isn’t one of the best Wentworths. The start is good, with the protagonist, Sarah, meeting an elderly woman in a station waiting room. The woman has been given a mysterious parcel by a wounded man on a train and is worried about what to do with it. When Sarah gets on her own train, she finds the parcel in her own bag.

The reader has to swallow a lot of coincidence, however, when we find out that the people with whom Sarah lives are involved in the mystery. It’s also hard to accept Sarah’s reason for not going to the police.

This is more of a gothic novel or woman-in-danger novel than anything else, with Sarah eventually trapped in her underwear (pink crêpe-de-chine) in the snow. Unusually for Wentworth, there are two men genuinely in love with the heroine. The ending is rather sudden.

The book was published as “Weekend With Death” in America. There’s a brief review at The Locked Room.

A couple of things reminded me of the Miss Silver books. The villain’s drawing room has “a fine period collection of photogravures represeting the more popular works of Landseer and Millais. There was a Soul’s Awakening over the mantelpiece, flanked by a Monarch of the Glen and a Dignity and Impudence“. I looked at the pictures in Miss Silver’s flat in my post about Christie’s Five Little Pigs. She has both the Soul’s Awakening (actually James Sant, not Millais or Landseer) and the Monarch of the Glen / Stag at Bay, as well as Millais’s Bubbles. It’s slightly odd that Wentworth repurposes the art from her detective’s rooms to her villain’s house.

There’s also considerable focus on how cold the country house is – something that Miss Silver also worries about, making sure she takes her fur tippet if staying in one.

And, in the middle of the terror, Sarah is gripped by Volume I of Charlotte Yonge’s The Pillars of the House:

Actually she found this a most enthralling work. What ingeniously ordered lives this vast Victorian family read. How small a happening could rouse and hold one’s interest. Felix’s birthday tip from his godfather, and the burning question of how much of it should go into the family exchequer, and whether he would be justified in blueing part of it on a picnic – with a wagonette – for the entire family, Papa, Mamma, and ten brothers and sisters. When Papa expired and Mamma had twins the same day, thus bringing the family up to thirteen, and Felix and Wilmet had to support them all, the contest between Miss Yonge’s ingenuity and Sarah’s scepticism became excitingly acute. It might have been done, she could even believe that it had been done, and though not in sight of the end of Vol. I, she contemplated turning out all the shelves till she tracked down Vol. II.

Miss Silver is also a fan of Yonge, as I mentioned in my post on Latter End.

Who Saw Her Die? (book #139)

5 May 2015

Patricia Moyes, 1970.

I’d not come across Moyes before finding this in a charity shop. Her Guardian obituary suggests she was more popular in the US than here. She evidently had an interesting life (there’s another account of it at Rue Morgue), working on radar in the war, then working with Peter Ustinov, and later living in Holland and the Caribbean.

Who Saw Her Die? is part of her series about Inspector Henry Tibbett (Chief Superintendent, by this book) and his wife, Emmy. The victim is a twenties glamour girl now aged 70, and it’s interesting to read about that period from the standpoint of 1970.

I liked this passage critical of some French food – not what one expects from English writing of the period. Emmy is Dutch, according to the internet, though this is only implied in this book (for instance, she’s ‘”glad to be back”‘ when they go to Holland).

Emmy … took herself off to Chez Marcel [in Montmartre], where for a modest sum she ate onion soup made with real onions and home-baked bread, and a beautifully-dressed salad which tasted of real lettuce and chives – compensations for a thin, tough steak, and tinned peas. The excellent cheese board nicely balanced the awful coupe Jacques. If it’s true, Emmy reflected, that English food would be delicious if one had three breakfasts a day, then by the same token cheap French meals could be improved by omitting the main disches and concentrating on the incidentals.

The by-play between Henry and Emmy is well-done. Apparently there are cats in some of Moyes’s novels (she wrote two books about cats) so obviously I shall have to explore this further.

There is a good review of Moyes’s first novel, Dead Men Don’t Ski, at Confessions of a Mystery Novelist.

Five Little Pigs (book #136)

16 March 2015

Christie, originally 1942.

The description of Miss Williams, the retired governess, and her flat, reminded me of Patricia Wentworth’s Miss Silver, also an ex-governess. Here is Miss Williams’s “flatlet”:

The walls were distempered an ascetic pale grey, and various reproductions hung upon them. Dante meeting Beatrice on a bridge – and that picture once descibed by a child as a ‘blind girl sitting on an orange and called, I don’t know why, “Hope”.’ There were also two water colours of Venice and a sepia copy of Botticelli’s ‘Primavera’. On the top of the low chest of drawers were a large quantity of faded photographs, mostly, by their style of hairdressing, dating from twenty to thirty years ago.

Henry Holiday’s Dante and Beatrice

Henry_Holiday_-_Dante_and_Beatrice_-_Google_Art_Project

Watts’s Hope:

Hope_Watts

Botticelli’s Primavera:

345px-Botticelli-primavera

And Miss Silver’s flat:

There was a row of photographs in silver frames upon the mantelpiece, and over it a silver engraving of Millais’ Black Brunswicker. On the opposite wall The Soul’s Awakening, and Bubbles. The wallpaper, covered with bunches of violets, put the clock back forty years.

(From Lonesome Road, 1939.)

Millais’s The Black Brunswicker:

Black Brunswicker

James Sant’s The Soul’s Awakening:

Soul's Awakening Sant

Millais’s Bubbles (A Child’s World):

300px-Bubbles_by_John_Everett_Millais

In The Chinese Shawl two other pictures are mentioned:

a number of pictures in old-fashioned frames of yellow maple. The pictures were all reproductions of the more famous works of the great Victorian artists – The Huguenots; Hope, drooping over her darkened world; The Black Brunswicker; The Stag at Bay.

I think “The Huguenots” is probably Millais’s A Huguenot, on St. Bartholomew’s Day, Refusing to Shield Himself from Danger by Wearing the Roman Catholic Badge:

Huguenot_lovers_on_St._Bartholomew's_Day

Landseer’s The Stag at Bay:

landseer-1870-antique-hand-col-print.-the-stag-at-bay-[2]-38592-p

Miss Williams has “authority” so that people must tell her the truth: “they considered fleetingly the possibility of a lie and instantly rejected it”. Miss Silver is the same: in The Watersplash a reluctant witness feels “a quite extraordinary sense of relief … The words which had come with so much effort now flowed like water. In some strange unreasoning way she recognised the presence of kindness and authority and responded to them”.

Miss Silver, as a result of having become a private detective, is much better off than Miss Williams (“the affair of the Urtingham pearls had proved very renumerative” [The Chinese Shawl]). Miss Silver’s office is “cheerful” and usually has a fire going. Miss Williams only has one “room, that was bedroom, sitting-room, dining-room, and, by judicious use of the gas ring, kitchen – a kind of cubby-hole attached to it continued a quarter-length bath and the usual offices”. “The square of carpet was threadbare, the furniture battered and of poor quality. It was clear to Hercule Poirot that Cecilia Williams lived very near the bone.”