Series: British Library Crime Classics

Review – Impact of Evidence

Posted February 21, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Impact of Evidence

Impact of Evidence

by E.C.R. Lorac, Carol Carnac

Genres: Crime, Mystery
Pages: 221
Series: British Library Crime Classics
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

Near St Brynneys in the Welsh border country, isolated by heavy snow and flooding from the thaw, a calamity has occurred. Old Dr Robinson, a known 'menace o the roads', has met his end in a collision with a jeep at a hazardous junction. But when police arrive at the scene, a burning question hints at something murkier than mere accident: why was there a second body - a man not recognised any locals - in the back of Robinson's car?

As the local inspectors dive into the muddy waters of this strange crime, Chief Inspector Julian Rivers and Inspector Lancing are summoned from Scotland Yard to the windswept wilds, where danger and deceit lie in wait.

Puzzling and atmospheric, this exceedingly rare mystery from one of the masters of crime fiction's Golden Age returns to print for the first time since its publication in 1954.

It’s always exciting when the British Library Crime Classics series bring out another of E.C.R. Lorac’s books, especially the rare and out of print ones. I’m slightly less fond of Lorac’s work under the Carol Carnac pseudonym, perhaps because I’m not as fond of the detective — though Lorac’s McDonald doesn’t show us a lot of his personal life, he does show a constant decency and patience, and that impression has been cumulative through the books in which he’s featured. Lancing and Rivers don’t really compare (and don’t really stand out to me, either, though nor did McDonald at first).

In any case, Impact of Evidence is the latest, a book which is out of print and almost unattainable until now. The setup is intriguing: details are drawn from Lorac’s own experience of Lunesdale, but transplanted to the Welsh borders, and she depicts farm life with her usual care for what’s needed and how those communities worked. As usual, she’s idealised the working farmer a little here, with her usual “salt of the earth” rock-solid decent characters — but having read more of her work, one’s always aware of the tension there, and when those people might do wrong.

I admit I was onto what happened fairly early on just because of certain details that were drawn to the reader’s attention multiple times, but it was still interesting to see how it worked out, and how some things were subverted (like the Derings matter-of-fact behaviour about the accusations of them).

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Someone from the Past

Posted February 14, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Someone from the Past

Someone from the Past

by Margot Bennett

Genres: Crime, Mystery
Pages: 256
Series: British Library Crime Classics
Rating: one-star
Synopsis:

Sarah has been receiving threatening anonymous letters, seemingly from a former lover. Just one day after revealing this information to her co-worker Nancy, Sarah is found shot in her bedroom by one of her past flames, Donald. Hearing the news and desperate to clear any evidence of Donald’s presence at the scene due to her own infatuations, Nancy finds herself as the key suspect when she is discovered in the apartment.

As the real killer uses the situation to their advantage, Bennett crafts a tense and nuanced story through flashbacks to Sarah’s life and loves in this Gold-Dagger-award-winning, Hitchcockian story of deceit and murder.

It’s rare that I give a British Library Crime Classic a really low rating, but Margot Bennett is one of those writers I don’t really get on with… and Someone from the Past got on my last nerve. The introduction is all about what a fine book it was thought and how amazing it is, but I found it really tiresome.

The main reason was that the main character does some completely daft stuff, lies badly, tries to be witty and fails, and then tries to run away to Ireland like the police don’t know all the tricks and all the ways you might try to skip the country. She has these long dialogues with people that Martin Edwards (the editor of the British Library Crime Classics series) thinks are great, and which to me just end up being set pieces for the sake of showing off how oh-so-wittily Bennett thinks she writes dialogue.

One or two scenes like that might be okay, but I just don’t believe this character has a braincell in her head, and I’m not interested in her sparring with people. And then the book goes and ends with a get together where the man in question literally spends the whole book manipulating her “for her own good”, and sometimes being physically threatening to the point of terror for her. And I’m supposed to believe that’s a happy end?

Maybe not: maybe the point is to look at Nancy getting back on the merry-go-round of stupid and think “oh boy”. But it felt more like an attempt to tidy up loose ends, to let the reader feel like things are going to be okay now — and either way, I just didn’t enjoy it.

Rating: 1/5

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Review – Fear Stalks The Village

Posted January 31, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Fear Stalks The Village

Fear Stalks The Village

by Ethel Lina White

Genres: Crime, Mystery
Pages: 304
Series: British Library Crime Classics
Rating: four-stars
Synopsis:

Ambling along the lanes of a sleepy village in the Downs, passing cosy Tudor cottages rustling with wisteria, a novelist imagines the sordid truth hidden behind the quaint, rustic facade. Her musings are confirmed when a spate of anonymous poison pen letters shocks the community, turning neighbour against neighbour and embroiling everyone from the rector and the ‘queen of the village’ Decima Asprey to the high-born Scudamores. With venom in the air, the perpetrator a mystery and dark secrets threatening to come to light, a shadow of shame and scandal stretches over the parish, with death and disaster following in its wake.

Revelling in the wickedness that lies beneath the idyllic veneer of village life, White’s 1932 mystery is an inventive interwar classic and remains one of the foundation stones of the village mystery sub-genre of crime fiction.

Ethel Lina White is great at creating a tense atmosphere and then drawing every possible ounce of drama out of it, and she’s very successful here. It gets a little melodramatic at times, but it makes sense given the febrile atmosphere of the story. It opens in an idyllic village, where everyone knows one another — and where everyone is suddenly a suspect after poison pen letters begin to be received.

I found the resolution of the mystery fairly obvious, though I hadn’t anticipated some of the dramatic twists and red herrings along the way, so it took a while to figure out why it worked out that way and how the mystery gets unravelled.

White also does some interesting things with the characters, making them feel surprisingly real for a crime novel of this period. There’s some genuine psychological depth to the doctor in particular, and they aren’t all straightforward stereotypes. I actually felt sad about some of these scenes, and much more involved than I usually do with classic crime — there’s three in particular that really struck home.

As a note, anyone with triggers concerning suicide should read this book with care. There are two successful suicides, with varying degrees of description, and an additional almost-suicide that’s quite closely described.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Till Death Do Us Part

Posted January 22, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Review – Till Death Do Us Part

Till Death Do Us Part

by John Dickson Carr

Genres: Crime, Mystery
Pages: 245
Series: British Library Crime Classics
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

"Who can I trust?"

Love-sick Dick Markham is reeling. He's set to marry Lesley Grant -- a woman whom he learns is not who she appears to be. She seems to have been associated with three poisonings, all of which were in locked rooms. Another crime has been committed and we will watch the great Dr. Fell investigate through Markham's watchful eyes.

That night the enigmatic fortune teller-and chief accuser-is found dead in an impossible locked-room setup, casting suspicion onto Grant and striking doubt into the heart of her lover. Lured by the scent of the impossible case, Dr. Gideon Fell arrives from London to examine the perplexing evidence and match wits with a meticulous killer at large.

I should preface this by saying (for anyone just tuning into my reviews now) that I really didn’t like the first couple of books by John Dickson Carr that I tried. After I read He Who Whispers, though, something clicked, and I determined to give him a little more time. Now that I’ve finished this one, I’m feeling a bit more complicated about it.

First, his female characters often leave something to be desired. There’s a certain almost femme fatale character type that he uses a few times (including here and in He Who Whispers) that I really don’t enjoy, though it can be difficult to explain exactly why not. Something about the overwrought helplessness of them, I think: the highly emotionally charged scenes where I favour a practical character who just steps up and takes control for herself. Which… not everyone or every character has to be like that, but when an author leans into the overwrought female stereotype multiple times, you really start to notice.

And of course, there’s his locked room mysteries, and his detectives. He tries so hard to come up with ingenious mysteries where you need to notice the tiniest clues and draw inferences from them if you want to treat it as a fair-play mystery — and to me, it feels sometimes like a rabbit just gets pulled out of the hat.

This one does get explained well, but there was a while where it was just too frustrating for words (I made a lot of cranky noises at it; my wife was definitely laughing at me). I don’t know quite what I’d want to make it hang together better for me: maybe just a bit more sense of the detective (and those around him) as humans. I’m not sure what drives Gideon Fell, beyond the love of a puzzle, yet on several occasions he shows a very human and humane side. I think a little more of that would do wonders for me.

Anyway, my newfound faith in John Dickson Carr isn’t quite shaken, but I hope the next book of his that I read takes a slightly different tack.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – A Surprise for Christmas

Posted January 2, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – A Surprise for Christmas

A Surprise for Christmas and Other Seasonal Mysteries

by Martin Edwards (editor)

Genres: Crime, Mystery, Short Stories
Pages: 304
Series: British Library Crime Classics
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

A Postman murdered while delivering cards on Christmas morning. A Christmas pine growing over a forgotten homicide. A Yuletide heist gone horribly wrong. When there's as much murder as magic in the air and the facts seem to point to the impossible, it's up to the detective’s trained eye to unwrap the clues and neatly tie together an explanation (preferably with a bow on top).

Martin Edwards has once again gathered the best of these seasonal stories into a stellar anthology brimming with rare tales, fresh as fallen snow, and classics from the likes of Julian Symons, Margery Allingham, Anthony Gilbert and Cyril Hare. A most welcome surprise indeed, and perfect to be shared between super-sleuths by the fire on a cold winter's night.

A Surprise for Christmas is the 2020 collection of short crime/mystery stories based around Christmas-time from the British Library Crime Classics series, edited as always by Martin Edwards. It’s a surprisingly star-studded volume, including stories from Ngaio Marsh and Margery Allingham, along with other standbys that appear more often in the anthologies of this series (like Carter Dickson, AKA John Dickson Carr).

It’s a strong enough collection, much in the same vein as the others, without being surprising — after all, that’s somewhat part of the point in crime/mystery fiction of this general period. It usually isn’t too surprising, though here and there an author like Julian Symons is included (as in this one), someone who tends more toward a psychological story.

Oddly enough, the Symons story included here is a repeat with a different title, previously included in The Christmas Card Crime, from 2018. Weird that no one realised that. The other stories are all new to the series so far as I can tell, though I haven’t read Crimson Snow.

“The Turn-Again Bell”, the final story, has quite the atmosphere, and would’ve been my favourite of the book, except that it seems a little trite in how it all wraps up. It doesn’t feel quite at home with the other stories in this volume, to be honest, being less a crime/mystery, and more definitively a Christmas story. Maybe that’s just me.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Silent Nights

Posted December 30, 2023 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Silent Nights

Silent Nights: Christmas Mysteries

by Martin Edwards (editor)

Genres: Crime, Mystery, Short Stories
Pages: 287
Series: British Library Crime Classics
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

Christmas is a mysterious, as well as magical, time of year. Strange things can happen, and this helps to explain the hallowed tradition of telling ghost stories around the fireside as the year draws to a close. Christmas tales of crime and detection have a similar appeal. When television becomes tiresome, and party games pall, the prospect of curling up in the warm with a good mystery is enticing – and much better for the digestion than yet another helping of plum pudding.

Crime writers are just as susceptible as readers to the countless attractions of Christmas. Over the years, many distinguished practitioners of the genre have given one or more of their stories a Yuletide setting. The most memorable Christmas mysteries blend a lively storyline with an atmospheric evocation of the season. Getting the mixture right is much harder than it looks.

This book introduces of readers to some of the finest Christmas detective stories of the past. Martin Edwards’ selection blends festive pieces from much-loved authors with one or two stories which are likely to be unfamiliar even to diehard mystery fans. The result is a collection of crime fiction to savour, whatever the season.

Silent Nights is another anthology of crime/mystery stories in the British Library Crime Classics series — edited as always by Martin Edwards. I think this may even have been the first one in the series, which means it contains an Arthur Conan Doyle Sherlock story (Conan Doyle being conspicuous by his absence from the more recent anthologies, presumably owing to running out of Holmes stories that fit the theme) and even a Dorothy L. Sayers story.

It’s a fun collection, with a couple of authors I’d be curious to read more books from (such as Marjorie Bowen). I raised my eyebrows a bit about including back-to-back stories by the same author, one under a pseudonym… but they’re somewhat different in tone, so it didn’t feel too samey.

As ever, it’s a collection greater than the sum of its parts, which is a phrase I’ve typed about these anthologies so often that perhaps I should just assume people will take it as read. Each individual story is mildly entertaining, some more questionable than others, but as a group they’re an interesting cross-section. Or archaeological dig through time, really, since they’re in chronological order…

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Christmas Card Crime

Posted December 22, 2023 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Review – The Christmas Card Crime

The Christmas Card Crime And Other Stories

by Martin Edwards (editor)

Genres: Crime, Mystery, Short Stories
Pages: 252
Series: British Library Crime Classics
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

A Christmas party is punctuated by a gunshot under a policeman’s watchful eye. A jewel heist is planned amidst the glitz and glamour of Oxford Street’s Christmas shopping. Lost in a snowstorm, a man finds a motive for murder.

This collection of mysteries explores the darker side of the festive season – from unexplained disturbances in the fresh snow, to the darkness that lurks beneath the sparkling decorations.

With neglected stories by John Bude and E.C.R. Lorac, as well as tales by little-known writers of crime fiction, Martin Edwards blends the cosy atmosphere of the fireside story with a chill to match the temperature outside. This is a gripping seasonal collection sure to delight mystery fans.

As ever, this collection of short stories from the British Library Crime Classics imprint is edited by Martin Edwards. It’s one of the older Christmas collections (I think the third, if I remember rightly), and includes stories by John Dickson Carr (under the Carter Dickson name) and E.C.R. Lorac — big names! There are some lesser known ones as well.

I think the story I’ll remember most is Julian Symons’; I don’t entirely love his work, it always seems a little too cerebral (which I’m sure he would’ve prided himself on, but I don’t read mysteries for that) and like he thinks he’s superior… but here in a short story that wasn’t so much on show, and there was something that just stood out about it, in the attention to detail, and the little sting in the tail.

Overall, it’s a fun enough collection, and as usual it’s fascinating to see a range of approaches through the chronological presentation of the various stories. I missed that in the newest volume, even though I hadn’t consciously thought about it before.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Who Killed Father Christmas?

Posted December 13, 2023 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Who Killed Father Christmas?

Who Killed Father Christmas? And Other Seasonal Mysteries

by Martin Edwards (editor)

Genres: Mystery, Short Stories
Pages: 264
Series: British Library Crime Classics
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

'The red robe concealed the blood until it made my hand sticky. Father Christmas had been stabbed in the back, and he was certainly dead.'

The murder of Father Christmas at one of London’s great toy shops is just one of many yuletide disasters in this new collection of stories from the Golden Age of crime writing and beyond. Masters of the genre such as Patricia Moyes and John Dickson Carr present perfectly packaged short pieces, and Martin Edwards delivers a sackful of rarities from authors such as Ellis Peters, Gwyn Evans and Michael Innes.

The answer to any classic crime fiction fan’s Christmas wish – and the only way for you to answer Who Killed Father Christmas? – this new anthology is set to muddle, befuddle, surprise and delight.

I think this is the first of the British Library Crime Classics anthologies I’ve read that’s themed around Christmas, though there are three or four others. As usual, it’s edited by Martin Edwards, and features a spread of different authors (within the volume, there are no repeat authors, though many of them have been seen in the other anthologies). This is a rare one without a Sherlock Holmes story, and unlike the usual habit, it’s not arranged in order of when it was written/published, but instead with an eye to increasing the sense of variety between the stories.

I have to say that I probably prefer the chronological order, because part of my interest is in the development of the genre (I studied it during my undergrad, and can’t quite turn off that part of my brain — it adds to the interest for me, so I don’t see why I should). I can’t say that it felt particularly more varied than the other volumes, either.

I was a little shocked by the inclusion of a modern story (from the 90s): it seems a bit early to call that a classic. I was a kid in the 90s, and I’m only in my 30s now: it’s not that long ago. I know some stories are “instant classics”, but with this series I’m really expecting a certain period and a certain fit with the themes of that period — not that style etc through the eyes of a more modern author. So, hmm.

Anyway, it’s a fun seasonal volume. Crime is crime, no matter the time of year, so it’s not exactly about the joy and bounty of the time of year, mind you — but if that’s your cup of tea, you’ll have fun.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Black Spectacles

Posted December 2, 2023 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Review – The Black Spectacles

The Black Spectacles

by John Dickson Carr

Genres: Crime, Mystery
Pages: 222
Series: British Library Crime Classics
Rating: four-stars
Synopsis:

A sinister case of deadly poisoned chocolates from Sodbury Cross’s high street shop haunts the group of friends and relatives assembled at Bellegarde, among the orchards of ‘peach-fancier’ Marcus Chesney. To prove a point about how the sweets could have been poisoned under the nose of the shopkeeper, Chesney stages an elaborate memory game to test whether any of his guests can see beyond their ‘black spectacles’; that is, to see the truth without any assumptions as witnesses.

During the test – which is also being filmed – Chesney is murdered by his supposed accomplice. The keen wits of Dr. Gideon Fell are called for to crack this brazen and bizarre murder committed in full view of an audience.

It’s still funny how I thought I really disliked John Dickson Carr’s writing, and now here I am inhaling his books in a day. The Black Spectacles has quite a bit going on, with the police detective getting deeply emotionally involved with the whole thing and Gideon Fell coming in all sympathy and understanding. He’s rather human for one of the Great Detective types, albeit you never learn much about his personal life or opinions outside of crime.

The crime isn’t the locked-room mystery that Carr specialised in, but it is an “impossible crime” — though I realised quickly what was up with that (a similar device used in a couple of other crime novels that I happen to like). It’s fun to work out what’s going on and why.

There is something rather dark about the motivations and the way a particular character is treated, that left me wanting a little more at the end of the novel — something to set the world properly to rights for her. Maybe an epilogue or something. But the mystery is resolved well.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Settling Scores

Posted November 27, 2023 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Settling Scores

Settling Scores: Sporting Mysteries

by Martin Edwards (editor)

Genres: Crime, Mystery, Short Stories
Series: British Library Crime Classics
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

Talented sportsmen inexplicably go absent without leave, crafty gamblers conspire in the hope of making a killing, and personal rivalries and jealousies come to a head on fields of play The classic stories in this new British Library anthology show that crime is a game for all seasons.

I thought I’d read these sporting mysteries (in this collection curated by Martin Edwards) in honour of the Rugby World Cup, the only sport I have so far managed to care about or even half-understand. The majority of these stories need no sporting knowledge at all to understand and follow; the sporting environment is just the backdrop. Even where you do need to know something, it’s fairly minimal.

It’s not a bad spread of stories, though the tone varies a bit (some stories feel rather brutal, and one involves spies and espionage, etc). Not one of my favourite collections, perhaps, but the sporting types might appreciate it a bit more. I did appreciate that it wasn’t just football and cricket stories or something — there was an archery story included, for example.

As ever, the collection is greater than the sum of its parts: it’s nice to read across a spread of the classic crime/mystery writers, and not just the biggest names, though there is (inevitably) a story by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Rating: 3/5

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