Tag: British Library Crime Classics

Review – The Belting Inheritance

Posted September 9, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Belting Inheritance by Julian SymonsThe Belting Inheritance, Julian Symons

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.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Arsenal Stadium Mystery

Posted August 29, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Arsenal Stadium Mystery by Leonard GribbleThe Arsenal Stadium Mystery, Leonard Gribble

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.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Woman in the Wardrobe

Posted August 18, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Woman in the Wardrobe by Peter ShafferThe Woman in the Wardrobe, Peter Shaffer

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.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – A Scream in Soho

Posted August 8, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of A Scream in Soho by John G. BrandonA Scream in Soho, John G. Brandon

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.

Rating: 1/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted August 5, 2020 by Nicky in General / 4 Comments

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!

Cover of A Scream in Soho by John G. BrandonWhat 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.

Cover of Lock In by John ScalziWhat 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.

Cover of The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky ChambersWhat 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.

But as usual, it could really be anything.

What are you currently reading?

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Review – The Murder of a Quack

Posted July 10, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Dead Shall Be Raised & Death of a Quack by Goerge BellairsThe Murder of a Quack, George Bellairs

The Murder of a Quack is another murder mystery in much the same vein as Bellairs’ others: for all that Inspector Littlejohn is chasing murderers, there’s something gentle about the whole thing. I suppose it’s the tenderness and affection with which Bellairs draws some of the characters, even as he makes them funny. The feud between the two oldest men in the village, the village bobby and his squeaky shoes, the foibles of the postmistress and her love of France and all things French… There are some more ugly characters, of course, but even those show glimmers of humanity.

In this particular instalment, Scotland Yard in the shape of Inspector Littlejohn is called in to investigate the death of a local bonesetter, highly respected by most of his community, though hated by the local properly qualified doctor for being trusted and preferred when it comes to minor ailments by most of the villagers. Though he’s a “quack”, that mostly refers to his lack of official qualifications: the story makes it very clear he was an experienced and careful healer, and worthy of trust. Littlejohn has to really poke around to get hold of the murderer in this case, but once he finds the right thread and gives it a good pull, his conscientious work pays off, as always.

Littlejohn isn’t a flashy detective, but that makes him the more enjoyable in a quiet, methodical way. Bellairs’ books lack the drama of some of the other Golden Age writers, but I think more highly of his warmth and ability to draw characters with each book. And this one even made me laugh a few times!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Dead Shall Be Raised

Posted July 9, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Dead Shall Be Raised & Death of a Quack by Goerge BellairsThe Dead Shall Be Raised, George Bellairs

George Bellairs is one of the writers in the British Library Crime Classics series who is reliably entertaining: perhaps not the literary heights of Sayers’ best, or the memorable twists of Christie’s work, but solid and enjoyable, rooted in places and people that feel familiar. It’s well-worn without being tired; the literary equivalent of a duvet day.

This particular mystery features the discovery, over the Christmas season, of the body of a murdered man… a man who was himself suspected of being a murderer twenty years before. Obviously his discovery — just metres from where they found the body of the man he was alleged to have killed — sheds new light on the old mystery, and requires that murder too to be investigated again. Inspector Littlejohn is just spending Christmas away from his usual beat, but he agrees to help investigate, being a Scotland Yard man.

Through patient work and a little insight into human nature, and his willingness to depend on local knowledge rather than think himself above, he… well, it’s a Golden Age mystery, so you won’t be surprised to know that the killer is found, and all is made comfortable again. The killer became obvious to me fairly quickly, and the twist in the tale as well, but I enjoyed the journey nonetheless. Bellairs may not be a particularly fine prose stylist, but he evokes the village and the people within it beautifully. Mrs Myles is rather good, and the Inspector Emeritus as well. Not stunningly original, perhaps, but there’s enough of their speech patterns and gestures and thoughts that they feel just real enough.

Definitely a worthwhile one.

(The Murder of a Quack is a separate book, unrelated apart from the shared detective, so I’ll review that later, separately, even though it’s reissued in the same volume.)

Rating: 4/5

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WWW Wednesday

Posted July 8, 2020 by Nicky in General / 7 Comments

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!

Cover of Invasive Aliens by Dan EatherleyWhat are you currently reading? 

Actively, I think it’s pretty much just Brit(ish) by Afua Hirsch — my loan got renewed from the library even though there were people in the queue, which is weird but I’m not arguing, because it lets me take my time and let it sink in a bit more — and Invasive Aliens, by Dan Eatherley, which I will probably sit down and finish as soon as I get done with this post.

Invasive Aliens is okay, but it feels a bit scattered; there are themes to the chapters, but it starts becoming a bit “and ANOTHER thing” after a while.

Cover of Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders by Aliette De BodardWhat have you recently finished reading?

I read Aliette de Bodard’s Of Dragons, Feasts and Murders yesterday in a hot bath, and narrowly resisted the urge to arise dripping and covered in bubbles to read bits to my wife, since Asmodeus is definitely her sort of thing. Instead I took photos of the relevant pages and sent them to her via chat, circling the good bits in red. It was rather nice.

(And yes, she’s convinced and plans to read it.)

Cover of Ninth House by Leigh BardugoWhat will you be reading next?

Book club reads this month are Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo and The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu, and I’ve been meaning to read both more or less since they came out, so that’s probably something I’ll do soon. I’m probably in the mood for a palate-cleansing murder mystery from the British Library Crime Classics series first, and maybe an installment of the Whyborne & Griffin series by Jordan L. Hawk as well. I also have a wicked bad urge to reread John Scalzi’s Lock In, and I might just listen to it.

So basically, as usual, it’s anyone’s guess.

What are you currently reading?

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Review – Murder in the Mill-Race

Posted June 22, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 3 Comments

Cover of Murder in the Mill-Race by E.C.R. LoracMurder in the Mill-Race, E.C.R. Lorac

Lorac starts this book by setting the scene, with a young doctor and his wife moving to an idyllic little village on the moor, self-contained and insular. They’re quickly accepted because of the doctor’s skills, of course, but there’s a little friction with a staple of the place: Sister Monica, a rather severe woman who rules over a little children’s home with an iron fist. Everyone says she’s “wonderful”, and yet there’s something forced about the superlative.

Since it’s a Golden Age crime novel, no surprises that Sister Monica is the one found dead, and that it unravels a whole snarl of issues in the little village. Lorac’s series detective, Macdonald, comes in to take a look — understanding the ways of a small village, but not bound by then, and able to cut some of the knots with plain-speaking and an inability to be rattled.

As always, Lorac is great with a sense of atmosphere: you can practically hear the sounds of the village, smell the scrubbed barren children’s home, feel the spray of the water in the mill race. The killer was the person I guessed, but Lorac avoided tying things up in too neat a bow: there are a couple of questions unresolved, and there’s no “sit all the culprits together in a room” moment. You do get a sense for how her detective works and how she likes to shape a mystery, after reading a few of her books — there are commonalities between this and her other books that felt a bit fresher the first time you read them.

Overall, though, Lorac’s ability to portray a place and a bunch of complicated characters remains a big draw, and I think her books are among the finer ones in the British Library Crime Classics collection (contrast Bude, for example, who I find entertaining but unremarkable as far as style goes).

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Sussex Downs Murder

Posted June 19, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Sussex Downs Murder by John BudeThe Sussex Downs Murder, John Bude

The Sussex Downs Murder is the third book I’ve read by John Bude from the British Library Crime Classics series, featuring the same detective as the previous two. Meredith is a policeman, and much of the story involves careful police work: cross-checking, putting a man on this and a man on that, and slowly amassing more evidence — so much that at first it’s hard to sort out what’s relevant and what isn’t, and which of the herrings are a suspiciously ruddy colour.

Bude’s writing is like that: methodical, thorough, a little slow, but ultimately assembling a pretty fascinating picture, with some nice set-pieces along the way. I don’t visualise things easily, but Bude brought to life the chalky cliff and the grassy downs of the setting, as his characters walk through them — a sketch, perhaps, but one that suggests just enough to contextualise what the artist wants to show.

I’ll admit that I find John Bude’s plots a trifle obvious, though Martin Edwards’ introductions don’t always help with that. He dropped a clue that raised my eyebrow right at the start, so I figured out where we were going. Still, I didn’t know quite how we’d get there, and with Golden Age crime fiction that’s usually the main thing.

In all, it’s a solid story, I didn’t spot any major holes, and it has its moments for characterisation, setting and humour. Not perhaps the best of the series, but an enjoyable specimen of the species.

Rating: 3/5

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