The Secret of High Eldersham is a bit of a weird one, really, with a lot of rather sensational stuff going on. It seems like it’s going to be one of those sleepy little village mysteries, but then there’s a whole mess of occult stuff coming in! Not that it’s unenjoyable, as aside from occasionally rolling my eyes at the drama I did rather enjoy it. It’s fairly typical in many ways of the period, with the intrepid amateur detective (who doesn’t quite run rings round the police, but they’re definitely indebted to him) and a love interest, terrible peril, etc, etc.
Miles Burton makes it work, though, and I’ve enjoyed another of his books too (finding it, on the whole, less sensational and more realistic). I’d recommend at least giving this a try! The pacing isn’t 100% perfect, but for the most part it ticks along pretty nicely.
Wow, this was just… kind of disappointing? I mean, there are aspects of it which are fairly unique — actually characterising the skinflint uncle who must die for the heir to inherit, and giving him maybe a softer side; following the crooks and getting into their heads as well as the innocent(ish) bystanders and the police, and the victim, etc. But in the end it just doesn’t come together: you don’t get to see the bad guys get their comeuppance, not all the mysteries are answered (if you even care by that point), and the “hero” insofar as there is one is a weak mummy’s boy who can’t take responsibility for his own actions or figure out how to take care of himself for even a moment.
It’s just… meh all round. I’m not really finding the ‘warm period charm’ Edwards mentions in his introduction; really, I’d be quite happy to have skipped this one.
This is a really entertaining entry into the British Library Crime Classics line-up: the premise had me from the word go, for sure. It’s a locked room mystery with a rather creepy beginning: a would-be burglar stumbles on a room full of corpses in a seemingly empty house. There’s a serious romantic plot that I think might put some readers off, especially as it involves a guy getting rather creepily fixated on a painting of a young girl and deciding he has to know her (though at least he knows she’s an adult now); sometimes it doesn’t feel like the primary point is the mystery, but instead the relationship between two people who are mostly on the edge of it.
There’s also some rather odd banter between the inspector and the policeman who works with him. Sometimes I seemed to be missing context — which makes no sense, considering they weren’t supposed to know each other long before the case, so it should all be perfectly comprehensible — and sometimes it just seemed like the dialogue was trying to be too clever.
Nonetheless, it’s entertaining and the weirdness of that opening kept me interested in how the mystery itself worked out. Unlike with some of the other books reissued by the British Library for the Classic Crime series, I do actually find myself rather eager to pick up another book by Farjeon, instead of just pleasantly entertained but not ready to leap on it. The Z Murders and Thirteen Guests are now on my TBR pile.
Obviously, when you read this, you can’t help but compare it to Gaudy Night if you’re a Sayers fan, or at least versed in your Golden Age crime fiction. It’s set at a women’s college in Oxford, after all, though it lacks the maturity and reflection of Sayers’ novel — the characters are mostly undergraduates, and there’s some leaning on stereotypes like the one single foreign student who attends the college (and doesn’t think about time, or tidiness, or anything else in the same way as British students — of course). The characters get all entangled in solving a mystery half for the fun of it, although there is the same focus on protecting the reputation of the college as Harriet and her peers feel in Gaudy Night.
Overall, it’s entertaining, with a fairly obvious (to me, anyway) mystery; it’s an interesting read as part of my ongoing dive into Golden Age crime fiction — but I’m not in a hurry to read Mavis Doriel Hay’s other two novels republished by the British Library. I probably will, but they haven’t catapulted to the top of my list.
The Cornish Coast Murder is an entertaining enough story, with the murderer being actually guessable (mostly because I looked for the character who was mentioned but seemed not to have a motive, but sshh) and some rather fun interchanges between the Vicar and the Doctor, crime fans extraordinaire. It has a good sense of place and nothing’s too fantastical, and it classically has killed off a person no one really cares too much for, which makes it fine as a cosy.
It’s definitely fun enough to make me think of picking up more of Bude’s work — I think there’s more republished in the British Library Crime Classics editions, at least. If not, maybe I wouldn’t go out of my way for it, but as it is it’s enjoyable.
And I still like the mental image of the Vicar crawling around the place with strings to get the trajectory of the bullets.
There’s some great bits of atmosphere in here — the Belfry is genuinely creepy-sounding, and the foggy interludes too. It’s a fairly typically entangled plot for a Golden Age crime novel, featuring all kinds of motives and inheritances and missing heirs, but you get the clues to guess the culprit, and I found it fun to follow through. I also appreciated that the solution is arrived at mostly by solid routine police work, not wild leaps of intuition or luck.
Definitely good enough that I’m picking up another of Lorac’s works, even if most of the characters are pretty unlikeable. (The cold, hard, cheating wife who is an actress and doesn’t forgive her husband’s lack of success, bleh.) I wasn’t expecting miracles, and thus enjoyed it accordingly.
The members of the Crime Circle filed out of the room, leaving one figure sitting in the darkness on the edge of the scene. The figure was of indeterminate height, weight and sex; in fact, it would be impossible for anyone to explain what they looked like, and even Sheringham would have been unlikely to perceive them. Nonetheless, they had watched the entire proceedings.
“I have another suspect,” this figure said. The voice, too, was androgynous; like everyone and like no one. It was the voice, of course, of the Readers.
A man’s voice. “You do?”
“I suspect you, of course. You’re guilty of the murder of Mrs Bendix.”
“I might as well suspect you,” the man replied, after a moment.
“But you’re the Writer,” the indeterminate voice said. “Anthony Berkeley Cox: also known as Francis Iles, and A. Monmouth Platts. With the benefit of hindsight, of course, we can see right through you. You’re guilty of the murder. Without you, Mrs Bendix wouldn’t even have existed.”
The man laughed, running a finger over his moustache. “Indeed? Or are you the guilty ones? Without readers to enact the crime in their heads, the story would be nothing. Mrs Bendix has died over and over again — at your hands, not mine.”
There was no possible answer to this last point, and the writer received none.
I should leave it at that, but I can’t quite resist having my say as well: The Poisoned Chocolates Case is a fun enough puzzle novel, as much a study of the characters investigating the crime and how they think, how they come to their conclusions. I rather enjoyed the plethora of solutions, though of course, I can’t help but feel that the one I wrote above is the real solution.
I’ll admit that I was hoping for more of the Museum atmosphere from this, and that I was a little sad that the academic rivalry subplot peters out. But it’s still entertaining: nothing too solid, fairly stereotyped cast of characters for a Golden Age crime novel, quick to read… I wasn’t expecting anything revolutionary (and indeed, don’t remember Martin Edwards mentioning this author at all in The Golden Age of Murder, which talked about some of the more interesting members of the Golden Age crime fiction movement and particularly the Detection Club), but this was the sort of undemanding, mild fun I imagined. Despite involving murder, it’s pretty darn cosy. The only uncomfortable bit is the abduction of the female character.
So not an enormously high rating, but it deserves at least a three. I had fun. Not recommended if you don’t like Golden Age tropes, though!
Five Red Herrings does a couple of things that really annoy me, like having a long section of people positing obviously wrong ways the crime unfolded, and the whole “the reader will of course know what the missing object was” bit — no, I don’t! I’m not a painter, I don’t have that education, and I don’t know how common it would’ve been in Sayers’ time, but knowing that fact has not lasted.
In any case, reading it this time, I did enjoy Five Red Herrings more than I did last time, perhaps. The introduction in the new edition drew my attention to the fantastic sense of place and character, and to appreciate again the way that Peter is embedded in the mystery, caring about the people involved. Plot-wise, it’s very clever again, literally written according to train timetables and precise distances between places. It might not be my favourite, but I can appreciate all the work that went into it. Sayers may not have thought her detective novels terribly literary or worthwhile, but hindsight says they are.
Girl Waits With Gun is based on the real story of Constance Kopp and her sisters, and draws inspiration from the real facts of her life — newspaper articles, family documents, etc — but it’s definitely a fictionalised version, giving Norma Kopp the hobby of looking after pigeons and so on. As a story, it’s entertaining, but perhaps more so knowing that Constance was a real person and this is one attempt to interpret her thoughts and feelings, her hopes and fears, during the time she was menaced by a mill owner who refused to pay for crashing into her family’s cart and wrecking it.
I thought it might turn out dry, but actually I got pretty into it, and on putting it down I was frustrated that a particular character didn’t know a particular fact — I won’t say what, because of spoilers. It’s enough to make me want to hurry up and pick up the next book as soon as I can. It’s obviously speculative, and it’s anybody’s guess what the Kopps would have thought about it, but it makes for a good story.