Tag: British Library Crime Classics

Review – Post After Post-Mortem

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

Review – Post After Post-Mortem

Post After Post-Mortem

by E.C.R. Lorac

Genres: Crime, Mystery
Pages: 300
Series: British Library Crime Classics
Rating: four-stars
Synopsis:

The Surrays and their five children form a prolific writing machine, with scores of treatises, reviews and crime thrillers published under their family name. Following a rare convergence of the whole household at their Oxfordshire home, Ruth – middle sister who writes ‘books which are just books’ – decides to spend some weeks there recovering from the pressures of the writing life while the rest of the brood scatter to the winds again. Their next return is heralded by the tragic news that Ruth has taken her life after an evening at the Surrays’ hosting a set of publishers and writers, one of whom is named as Ruth’s literary executor in the will she left behind.

Despite some suspicions from the family, the verdict at the inquest is suicide – but when Ruth’s brother Richard receives a letter from the deceased which was delayed in the post, he enlists the help of CID Robert Macdonald to investigate what could only be an ingeniously planned murder.

I normally love E.C.R. Lorac’s books, and I think this was a very fine example of her work… without being one that I, strictly speaking, enjoyed. She has a way of describing characters and places that can make you love them and feel their goodness — and in this book, the nastiness of murder feels particularly prominent. It’s less “good people overcome” and more “good people are overcome”, and it just hit wrong for my current mood, despite being well handled.

Those who read it should be warned that the setup has the murder being taken to be suicide at first, and that the family react accordingly, with shock and horror and the sense that the world is upended. And that isn’t the end to their sorrows.

It’s a good thing that Lorac writes such a sensitive, humane detective in MacDonald, because his sympathy also helped to make this book as powerful as it is.

In the end, the solution was also a sad one, and the whole thing just left me with a sense of melancholy. Beautifully written, perhaps among Lorac’s best — but perhaps not one that I’ll visit again.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – He Who Whispers

Posted October 23, 2023 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – He Who Whispers

He Who Whispers

by John Dickson Carr

Genres: Crime, Mystery
Pages: 270
Series: British Library Crime Classics
Rating: four-stars
Synopsis:

'It almost seemed that the murder, if it was a murder, must have been committed by someone who could rise up unsupported in the air…'

When Miles Hammond is invited to a meeting of the Murder Club in London, he is met instead with just two other guests and is treated to a strange tale of an impossible crime in France from years before; the murder of a man on a tower with only one staircase, under watch at the time at which the murder took place. With theories of levitating vampires abounding, the story comes home to Miles when he realises that the librarian he has just hired for his home is none other than Fay Seton, a woman whose name still echoes from the heart of this bizarre and unsolved murder of the past.

I don’t normally get along with John Dickson Carr’s work. In fact, I don’t even buy the British Library Crime Classic editions — it’s one of only three gaps in my collection (a few of the short story collections, which I’m slowly picking up, and the Sergeant Cluff books are the others), because I just haven’t got along with the others.

It’s hard to say why this was an exception. I think in part it’s that it’s a fair-play mystery. Though there is a Great Detective (Gideon Fell), the POV character isn’t treated too much as his side-kick, and there’s some interesting attempts at psychological realism (even if it’s unfortunately in part about a “nymphomaniac” girl). I was able to form theories about it, and feel like I had the clues that fell into place at the right moments, and I didn’t universally hate the characters. There’s nothing so straightforward as some of Carr’s other female characters and snap romances.

It’s enough to give me hope for some of the Carr books I haven’t picked up yet: maybe some of those will equally have some joys for me. I was glad I gave this a shot thanks to my British Library Crime Classics subscription!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Death in Captivity

Posted September 15, 2023 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Death in Captivity by Michael GilbertDeath in Captivity, Michael Gilbert

Oof, I find talking about this one… complicated. Michael Gilbert was a prisoner of war during World War II, so in this story set in a prison camp in Italy, he knows exactly what he’s writing about. And that shows. It’s not like some war stories written nowadays where the gritty detail is intended to evoke a sense of hopelessness and despair: instead, it’s his matter-of-factness about the details and the shape of daily life that makes me feel a little crushed, reading it. Things often don’t seem so bad, kind of normal, and then atrocities casually happen.

As a result, it was a reading experience that I more appreciated than enjoyed, if that makes sense. It’s an inspired setting for a murder mystery, and Gilbert’s writing is… perhaps not the most descriptive, picture-painting stuff, but it makes things very clear, and for all that it’s matter of fact, the sense of life in the PoW camp really did come through.

As for the mystery… well. I don’t want to say too much, but I was disappointed by the solution — not because it didn’t make sense or anything, but just because it was more of that awful war-time mood. Not unexpected, not a bad twist to the story, nothing like that. Just… very WWII.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Wheel Spins

Posted September 5, 2023 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Wheel Spins by Ethel Lina WhiteThe Wheel Spins, Ethel Lina White

Reading Ethel Lina White’s short stories, they seemed very sensational. From what Edwards writes in his introductions, the “woman in danger” story like this seemed to be her forté, but the short stories didn’t quite work for me, so I wasn’t sure whether this would be enjoyable. I was pleasantly surprised: I did find it a bit challenging in a way to read a book where a woman’s reality gets so constantly questioned, but it’s not that the situation was uninteresting in any way.

In the end, it’s a pretty simple trick (which I won’t ruin by discussing it at length), and we have all the clues for a long time. What matters is the suspense, and Iris’ understanding of the situation — and her fear and discomfort as it proves impossible to convince other people of what she knows to be true.

All of that feels especially poignant set against the asides, with Miss Froy’s family awaiting her safe return. The detail there is loving and tender, and that little family feels very real despite appearing only in a couple of chapters.

The main sour note for me is that a certain character reaps his rewards despite working against Iris and treating her as a helpless, hysterical woman. Get a better man, Iris!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Measure of Malice

Posted August 28, 2023 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Measure of Malice ed. Martin EdwardsThe Measure of Malice, ed. Martin Edwards

As ever, this collection from the British Library Crime Classic series is, to me, more than the sum of its parts. The Measure of Malice collects stories that in some way lean more into the science of detection: nothing here is terribly complex (and some of it is bunk, like the idea that the human retina will hold an image of the last thing that person saw), but it’s all beginning to explore the idea that figuring out a criminal isn’t just a cerebral exercise, but one which involves practical, physical evidence that may not always be readily apparent.

I didn’t love all the stories for themselves, but I enjoyed the assembled selection and what it adds to my knowledge of the genre in that period. The obligatory Arthur Conan Doyle story is here, of course, but also a slightly more unexpected Dorothy L. Sayers story (though one I already knew from Wimsey collections).

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Long Arm of the Law

Posted August 15, 2023 by Nicky in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of The Long Arm of the Law, ed. Martin EdwardsThe Long Arm of the Law, ed. Martin Edwards

Okay, okay, all cops are bastards, but in crime fiction they don’t have to be. Of course these stories are mostly in the idealised mode where police just want to help and a lone girl can pop into the police station for protection — the world I thought I was growing up in, in fact.

It’s not a stand-out for me in terms of the stories or the quality thereof, but I was pretty entertained by Christianna Brand’s story with the Great Detective, and with Inspector Cockrill butting in and dismantling the whole story.

As ever, an interesting survey of the genre on this particular topic. And it includes a short story from E.C.R. Lorac, a rarity (though that one didn’t especially stand out to me).

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Capital Crimes

Posted July 16, 2023 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Capital Crimes ed. Martin EdwardsCapital Crimes, ed. Martin Edwards

This is an interesting bunch of stories, loosely connected by location, but somehow mostly hitting the same notes — I guess people felt a certain kind of way about London, and that comes through in this collection with a serious sense of unease about the way you can meet just about anyone in London.

The inclusion of Berkeley’s original short story on which he based The Poisoned Chocolates Case was an interesting one; the details seemed very much the same, and I can’t really remember how the novel turns out differently and which characters exactly get suspected there. It makes me a little tempted to reread it!

The truncation of the story set on the Underground feels a little odd — I guess it was long/rambling, but still, it feels like a key bit gets missed out here, the whole solution of the thing.

Overall, an interesting collection as usual.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Suddenly At His Residence

Posted July 4, 2023 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Suddenly At His Residence by Christianna BrandSuddenly At His Residence, Christianna Brand

There’s something a little same-y about Brand’s writing, particularly between this book and Green for Danger. There are similarities in setup (the small group of suspects), the ingenious plotting to hide the crime, the interactions of the characters as they each blame and suspect the others, and of course the method of detection. Although you couldn’t map the characters one-to-one as being similar, I feel like I’d know this was one of Brand’s books. That makes sense to some degree — after all, it’s the same detective — but it produced such a similar tone and story arc that it felt a little strange to me.

One thing Brand was undeniably good at is ratcheting up the tension for the reader. So many accusations, so many jagged little edges of wounds and half-healed jealousies… and someone in the group is a killer; someone in the group is allowing the others to be suspected.

Like Green for Danger, this isn’t the most comfortable cosy read as a result. I think I liked it more, though — I got a little more interested in the characters and which of them did the crime. The ending of this is pretty harrowing, in a whole different way to Green for Danger. As there, justice is ultimately served, but not through a trial and due process; that is one of the major tropes of Golden Age crime that gives me very iffy feelings.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Murder at the Manor

Posted June 22, 2023 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Murder at the Manor ed. Martin EdwardsMurder at the Manor, ed. Martin Edwards

Another good collection of short stories, this time themed around that most Golden Age of set-ups: the country house mystery. I do have a weakness for those, and there are some fun ones here, though a surprising number that feel more like horror stories!

Individually, none of the stories really shone, but I really enjoy reading these collections. I’m rather enjoying seeing some of the serial detectives that existed in short fiction, after getting fairly familiar with some of the longer-form detectives — Raffles, for instance, who has appeared in at least one other anthology in this series.

A couple of the stories are a bit too histrionic — Ethel Lina White’s, for example — but mostly what you’d expect of classic crime stories (which is exactly what I want when I pick one up).

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Guilty Creatures

Posted June 10, 2023 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Guilty Creatures, edited by Martin EdwardsGuilty Creatures, ed. Martin Edwards

Guilty Creatures has an interesting idea for a theme (crime/mystery stories centred around animals in some way, usually where animals are the culprits), and is an entertaining read in the aggregate, but I can’t say that any single story actually really stood out to me, except perhaps the one where a tuberculosis infection was a significant clue, given my interests! In some cases the theme was a little bit stretched, to say the least (I won’t say which, since it kind of spoils the point of the story to understand what happened).

The quality of the stories is variable, as so often in short story collections of any kind, but it overall manages to be a fun experience — in part because of the little windows into the author that Edwards gives at the start of each story, providing a little bit of context. It’s very easy reading, as well: if you don’t like one story or style, the next is coming up very soon.

Rating: 3/5

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