I didn’t think this book was going to come together well, after reading a couple of chapters. It consists mostly of character sketches, which constitute little thumbnails of lives which might (maybe) give the characters motive, means and opportunity for the murder which occurs at the start of the book. They’re quite disconnected, and they go some very different places — one cobbler ruined by a scam who turns to pickpocketing and then goes straight again; one mini-spy story in which a German refugee is rescued by a determined but naive and rich young Englishman; one miniature love story chronicling an adulterous affair…
And in a way, they don’t really pull together, in that the various stories barely touch at all, but they do manage to achieve something: I very much knew who I wanted to be the murderer, and I knew who I didn’t want to be the murderer. I won’t spoil anything about who is who, but it’s perhaps useful to know going in that the effect does work in the end! I wouldn’t say it’s a favourite, but it comes out as surprisingly solid.
Unusually for the British Library Crime Classics series, this is a book that was never published before, lightly edited and prepared for publication now given the popularity of Lorac’s books within the series of reissues. It features not one of her usual detectives, but a new group of characters — and on the detection side of things, I have to say I prefer her actually-published books. This felt like it was missing a bit of the warmth and humanity that you feel (however muted) from her usual solid and decent detectives.
I do wonder if I’d have preferred it if Lorac had actually prepared it for publication herself, rather than it being pulled out of the archives and published for the first time. I think she’s likely to have had some changes to make, at least.
That said, it works as a story, shuffling the puzzle pieces around until — click! You’ve completed the puzzle. You have most of the info you need to solve it, but there are a few surprises lurking. I suspect I was partially surprised because this is Lorac, and I’d expected certain things of her characters, too.
I can’t say it’s one of my favourites, but it was enjoyable, and features her usual attention to place and how a place can affect a crime and those all around it.
This is one of the British Library Crime Classics, by an author I’ve read before, under another name — Anne Meredith. I don’t recall loving her other book, but I enjoyed this one a bit more, despite there being a fairly strong note of melancholy in the ending, and some real awfulness between the characters.
The mystery was okay: it took some untangling, and I didn’t call the final twist. I wasn’t in love with the characters and their attitudes toward each other — okay, I disliked it quite a bit — and the narrator is pretty much a non-entity (aside from being a Moaning Minnie about everything), and Jeremy seems like a dick. There is something interesting about the mildness of Dennis placed beside his obvious competence and self-assurance, though. I did find the character of Eleanor to be an interesting study, really: that strange utter selfishness about preserving her relationship with her husband, alongside the narrator’s obvious reverence for her.
In the end, it was an entertaining enough read, but not one that will stick with me in any way.
Wow, this book is such a complete downer. It features a divorced private detective who is investigating the theft of intellectual property (special designs for the items produced) at Shentall’s Pottery, who stumbles into a much darker mystery of the death of someone at the firm. It’s both a whodunnit and a who-was-done-in, with a structure that has the body discovered at the start, then a flashback to the investigation of the thefts, and then the aftermath.
It’s difficult to say much about the story without spoilers, but perhaps the least spoilery thing is that the detective falls in love with one of the people he’s investigating. When she finds out the truth, she’s less than pleased — even though she was keeping her own secrets all along, of course. The structure and this “love” story (which comes across as fairly creepy, since he snoops among her things and takes her out places on false pretences) are the story’s pretensions to a literary mode, rather than a paint-by-numbers crime story… but honestly, I prefer the paint-by-numbers. This is undoubtedly better written, but it’s grubby and psychological and slow.
Maybe if I was in it for the kind of story it turns out to be, I’d have enjoyed it more, but it lacks what many of the British Library Crime Classics have. It’s not a ‘cosy’ for me, as many of this series of reissues are; feels way too personal and definitely far too drear. There’s a certain attention to detail, of understanding the industry that she’s writing about, which makes this book stand out… and some of the psychological stuff and the interplay between the detective and the beloved would work better for me in a different context — but I can’t say I enjoyed it.
Searching for something to read on the treadmill — not too demanding, but absorbing enough to sink into for a half hour here and there — I decided a British Library Crime Classic would be a good pick. It’s been a while since I tried Mavis Doriel Hay’s books, so I can’t remember quite how this stacked up, but it was an entertaining enough story. The young people are mostly fun — you can tell they are genuinely good people, even when they’re laughing at their elders or being a little stupid about a police investigation — though I couldn’t entirely tell the difference between Beryl and Betty at times, which got a bit confusing.
Basil, however, was really annoying, oh my gosh. Just stop prevaricating and incriminating yourself and tell the truth, man! And it’s not at all endearing that you lose track of what story you’ve told which person and get into a mess! Gah. He deserved to be in trouble with the police!
In any case, I suspected the murderer early on, though I suspect I have an eye for Golden Age fiction patterns by this point. (And this one fits the pattern to a T; fairly unlikeable person gets killed, unlikeable person did the deed, order is restored at the end…) It worked pretty well, overall, and the clues come together well. Enjoyable!
I quite liked a previous book by Julian Symons, and this had quite a similar feel: more literary and polished than some of the other crime novels in the British Library Crime Classics series, which just attempt to be good stories. And another experience has led me to conclude that, well… I don’t really like his work, on balance: I find it has a certain self-conscious feel, a knowledge of its own cleverness, that I find somewhat offputting.
That’s more the case with this one that with The Colour of Murder: the narrator is an older man recounting something that happened when he was just barely an adult, describing his naive young stumblings-about and pretentiousness with an older, more temperate eye… and in the meantime showcasing how very clever he was in some ways (like wordplay and random intuitions to dash across to France). The tone felt fussy and slow as a consequence.
The whole family are pretty unpleasant here, as is traditional, and I didn’t really get majorly involved in the mystery: parts of how it would work out were much more obvious than I think the author would’ve liked! It’s just not that clever, and something about that smarmy narrator (both his young and adult selves) just gets up my nose. Bah.
As a piece of writing, I think it’s well done, pretty well-plotted and structured and so on. The neat sketches of the characters are mostly unkind, but do conjure up people quite vividly… But overall, meh for me.
I was kind of reluctant to read this one, though it’s been out for quite a while and I’ve picked it up in shops a few times already. Football in itself doesn’t interest me at all, so I wasn’t interested in the gimmick of it being set in Arsenal’s stadium or featuring real Arsenal players and staff of the time. It’s a bit of a curiosity, but not more than that. However, I’m not that interested in lawyers’ offices or farms or advertising offices, really, and I see plenty of those in fiction and read it anyway… so I decided to give it a go.
So in case anyone else is worried, there’s really no need to know anything about football. As with the farms and advertising firms, it’s mostly set dressing, and the motivations are love, hate, self-interest, vengeance, obligation, fascination… all the usual stuff. A player is killed during a game, and one of his teammates looks like the perfect culprit… too perfect, perhaps, thinks Inspector Slade from Scotland Yard.
It’s one of those where I didn’t really see the culprit coming; I knew who it wasn’t, from the clues and so on, but not who it was. The story spends so much time on the red herrings that I’m not sure the clues given for the real murderer are fair play. That said, I found it pretty enjoyable.
The Woman in the Wardrobe features a few elements I usually find myself disliking, to wit an amateur detective full of bombast, wit and ego, and a locked-room mystery. There are some definite similarities with Gideon Fell… but the writing style is so breezy — and the included caricatures of various characters so full of life — that it swept me right through my usual objections. It’s one of those with a clever trick ending (as most locked-room mysteries are) and it worked reasonably well.
I can’t say I like the amateur detective, but at least the narration knows he’s a bit of an ass. It doesn’t push too hard on his genius, though there is a very Sherlockian scene with a reverie over a pipe just as the case is reaching its conclusion… It’s all contrived, of course, but it’s fun. It mostly helps that it doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Ooookay this one is just somehow really not my thing. It’s all Italian mobsters and German spies, slathered on thick with a side of racial determinism. The policeman at the centre of the story, McCarthy, is prone to violence to get his way — and has a rather Holmes-ian moves-in-mysterious-ways air about him, along with various sidekicks pulled off the streets and a disguise or two. It’s fairly obvious whodunnit, from pretty early on, and whydunnit comes pretty quickly after as well. After that, McCarthy just knocks some heads together and does some casual breaking and entering.
The joy of Golden Age crime fiction is often the sense of order, the sense that things in Britain are fundamentally good and just. It’s a total nostalgic lie, and always was, and the noble policeman as much as any of it… and this doesn’t have to be everybody’s thing, but I do think it’s a big part of what calls to me about E.C.R. Lorac’s series detective, or John Bude’s: they are decent men, doing a job which they believe to be serving justice, and doing it for the right reasons.
Needless to say, then, I did not enjoy McCarthy, even though he’s probably more realistic in many ways — particularly not since we’re supposed to be entirely on his side. Nope, nope, nope.
Not one for me. 1/5 stars feels kind of unfair, but… no, I can’t honestly point to anything I liked.
It’s Wednesday again! So here’s the usual check-in. You can go to Taking On A World Of Words to chat with everyone else who has posted what they’re reading right now!
What are you currently reading?
Probably a bunch of stuff that I’ve accidentally put down when I didn’t mean to… but primarily, I’ve just started A Scream in Soho, by John G. Brandon. There’s so much period-typical racial stereotyping (largely about Italians, but Germans too), and the murdered person is… well, the way the story puts it is that it’s a man disguised as a woman. Which the plot will probably bear out, given they’re probably a spy. Still, it’s not exactly aged well in various ways.
What have you recently finished reading?
I devoured a reread of John Scalzi’s Lock In, and then followed it up with the sequel, Head On. I’ve been meaning to read it for ages, and I didn’t really need the reread of the first book… but it was nice. I still need to sit down and do my review of Head On and think through it, but I tore through both books.
What will you be reading next?
Goodness knows! I want to reread The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet for a Habitica book club readalong, so there’s that… but I also just got my replacement ereader and I had a bunch of books part-read on Libby that I need to get into the queues for again. If they’re not currently reserved, maybe I’ll be able to grab them and restart on those.