He’d Rather Be Dead is another of George Bellairs’ Inspector Littlejohn stories; I’m not reading them in any kind of order, just picking them up as I come across them or find them on Kindle Unlimited, and luckily that doesn’t matter — you can jump in anywhere. Littlejohn’s character doesn’t really change or develop: it’s purely about the mystery he’s investigating. In this case, it’s the death of the local Mayor, who died at a banquet surrounded by potential enemies made due to his corruption and efforts to revitalise the town in a way the inhabitants see as vulgar.
As with The Case of the Famished Parson, which I read recently, a lot of the opening detail is a red herring: the events of the banquet are relatively unimportant, and Boumphrey — who gets a decent introduction — quickly fades into the background and even becomes rather a suspicious character.
I do enjoy that with George Bellairs’ work, you can usually follow Littlejohn’s reasoning. As the evidence comes to light, the reader gets to see it too. He’s no Sherlock Holmes, all ego and long explanations of his own cleverness; he’s decent and honest, and basically what an ideal policeman should be.
The kind of odd thing with this particular instalment was that it ended with several chapters of the killer’s diary, which just went over information we already knew, in a rather florid style. It doesn’t add much, and honestly… I’d skip it. Otherwise, an enjoyable enough mystery, with George Bellairs’ usual qualities.
I got this because a) someone in the Legendary Book Club of Habitica guild on Habitica named it as one of their favourite books for a group readalong, and b) I’ve been meaning to try Dorothy Gilman’s books for a while (albeit I usually get recommended the Mrs Pollifax books). At the beginning, Amelia finds a note hidden in a hurdy-gurdy in the antique shop she’s recently purchased.
Amelia’s had a life half-sheltered by adults (her father, and then a psychiatrist her father paid to help her) and half-wrenched awry by the suicide of her mother when she was a child; she’s very naive at times, and yet surprisingly strong and driven once she finds something to care about… and she quickly comes to care about the contents of that note, which allege that the writer was held captive and forced to sign some kind of document she didn’t want to sign, and that she knows she will soon be killed. Amelia wants to find her, wants to know what happened, and she sets about doing just that.
I found myself caring a lot about Amelia and her quest; it all fell together almost too neatly, the coincidences all lining up to provide clues and to hook Amelia closer into her little quest… but something about her frank tone and determination won me over. Joe’s less knowable, given the narration, but the way he decides to help her with her little quest makes his character work for me as well. The relationship between them is a little quick, but it’s kind of like in Mary Stewart’s novels — in the context, I don’t really question it.
Pretty enjoyable, anyway! And I will have to read more of Dorothy Gilman’s work.
Blood and Circuses didn’t quite satisfy the hunger for rereading Phryne’s adventures, since it’s atypical in some ways. I joked on Litsy that I was rereading the series for the delicious dresses and beautiful food (with the adjectives that way round!) — and there’s certainly a good helping of that here, along with the first appearance of Phryne’s Chinese lover, Lin Chung. I can’t speak for how accurate or respectful his portrayal is; Greenwood is certainly sympathetic to the Chinese people living in Melbourne at the time, but there’s a fair amount of exoticisation going on there (as there is with Phryne herself, of course, but still).
Never having really known a serious actor personally, I find the way Greenwood portrays them bewilderingly malicious at times. I mean, Sir Bernard isn’t so bad, and Mollie Webb, but there’s so much spite, vanity and callousness flying around… particularly in the person of the beautiful Leila Esperance.
In any case, it’s a pretty fun one, and especially entertaining to see Greenwood portray a Welshman (even one who’s such a cad).
Blood and Circuses is, of course, a reread for me — the book in which Phryne Fisher joins the circus to work out a mystery, at the pleading (and goading) of her carnie friends… while at the same time, a horrible murder has taken place which Jack Robinson must investigate. It’s always interesting to see Phryne out of her element, because that’s when she has to be her most resourceful, and the circus is a whole new world for her.
There’s also Lizard Elsie, and her adventures with Miss Parkes and Constable Harris, which keep things entertaining (to say the least).
It always feels like it takes a while to heat up, and then suddenly flies by once Phryne’s there in the circus. It’s surprising to realise how fast it goes. I always enjoy this one, and I’m particularly entertained (as ever!) by the scene in which the clown and the carnie have to cuddle Phryne to help her get over her shock…
Inspector Littlejohn is supposed to be on holiday, taking a break after running himself into the ground on too many cases. As ever, a busman’s honeymoon is sure to follow, and Littlejohn finds himself investigating the murder of a parson, found in an astonishingly emaciated state with his head bashed in. Needless to say, it isn’t a very restful holiday, and Littlejohn even finds himself shot while he’s still making routine inquiries…
When I first read one of Bellairs’ books in the British Library Crime Classics, I thought it was fun, and I’ve definitely found that to be so with all his books. Maybe not the most inventive or technically brilliant, but likeable. I feel like Bellairs really enjoyed writing these books, these competent mysteries where the world is restored to rights by the finding and apprehending of the killer — without police violence, without prying too deeply into people’s psyches. Somehow cosy, even when the crimes are horrible. The Case of the Famished Parson fits well into that mould, and I enjoyed it very much.
I do have to say that I’d expected something a bit more weird, from that title. In the end, the fact that the man was starving is the least part of the mystery — easily sorted out, though it does have a part to play in explaining what happened.
I probably won’t be picking up another book by Bellairs immediately — but I’ll definitely be picking one up again in the near-ish future. They’re even on Kindle Unlimited!
I was really in the mood to reread one of Mary Stewart’s novels, and I felt pretty nostalgic about The Gabriel Hounds. I thought I’d remember it pretty well, but there was actually a bit in the middle I was more vague on and that I could swear had happened in a different Mary Stewart book… In any case, The Gabriel Hounds follows Christy, separated from her group on a package tour of the Lebanon. Reminded that her great-aunt lives in the area, and surprised by the legends that seem to have grown up around her, Christy resolves to see the old lady — and thus finds herself plunged into a whole mess.
As ever, Stewart had an excellent way of bringing the landscape to life, not just the sights (I can’t imagine those anyway) but the smells and the impressions, and even somehow something of the light and the quality of the air. She’s very good at invoking an idealised, picturesque landscape — and some real nastiness, as well, of course, but that’s more commonplace. She’s not so bad with character, either — spoiled, sharp Christy; kind Hamid, who almost felt like he should be a bigger character or get some much better reward out of the story; poor Lethman…
I should warn readers that the love interests are full cousins, whose fathers were twins; cousin-marriage happens a couple of times in Mary Stewart’s books, but this one is closer than most, and lays particular emphasis on the two growing up like siblings. It might gross you out, so I mention it even though it’s a spoiler.
The actual plot is fairly obvious, and the romance almost perfunctory… but it has a kind of magic anyway.
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 read something that compared Ruth Ware’s work to Agatha Christie’s, and I can definitely see the influence here. The Death of Mrs Westaway is a bit of a thriller. The main character, Hal, has been working on the pier as a fortune teller since her mother’s death, barely making ends meet, and has taken out an unwise loan to boot. So she’s tempted when she receives a letter informing her that she’s due to receive some money in the will of a Mrs Westaway, her grandmother. It seems like a dream come true, but there’s a catch — her grandmother died a long time ago…
The temptation proves too much: Hal has a lot of skill with cold reading, the art of figuring out what a client thinks and wants from little cues and leading questions. If anyone can pull off pretending to be the real heir, surely it’s Hal… so off she goes, and quickly finds herself folded into the family.
It’s not as simple as all that, of course, and it slowly becomes clear that there’s something else going on. I found the pacing a little bit odd, in retrospect; it takes quite a while to reveal that there is something deeper going on, and that it’s not just going to be a case of mistaken identity. I can’t really say too much about the twists and turns, of course. I did enjoy the fact that Hal’s family are both unpleasant in their own ways, snappish and snobbish, and yet also welcoming and deeply glad to see Hal for the sake of their lost one. It rings true: families can be awful to each other and yet turn around as a united front half a minute later.
I didn’t get deeply absorbed into it, so I wouldn’t say this was a mega-favourite, and I don’t feel called to read more of Ruth Ware’s work — but it was an enjoyable enough reading experience, and I definitely cared enough to finish it rather than write it off. In these distracted days, that’s definitely something!
Proper English is the story of Pat and Fen, who I previously encountered in Think of England — this book is set before that, but reading them in either order is completely fine, because you don’t need to know much from either book to appreciate the other. It opens with Pat and her brother travelling to a shooting party at a country house, where it transpires that there’s a whole party invited, including their host’s fiancée, Miss Carruth. She turns out to be a sweet but apparently fairly silly girl, rather prone to giggling and girlishness: a pretty stark contrast to Pat, who is a women’s shooting champion, and expects to be treated practically as one of the men.
Most of the rest of the company aren’t nearly that nice, and it quickly becomes apparent something is very wrong, as their host allows his brother-in-law to lord it over everyone and say awful things, while clearly hating that it’s happening. Pat tries to just enjoying the shooting, but quickly finds that Miss Carruth (Fen) is a lot smarter than she likes to let on. Also, Pat is not at all immune to her charms, despite the differences between them. Their friendship and romance is adorable, and they quickly find that they’re not so much opposites as complementary to each other.
Because this is a K.J. Charles novel, of course, that’s not the end of it: in classic country house mystery style, on a miserable rainy day when no one can go out or leave, one of the company is found dead. Pat and Fen are all too aware of all the secrets in the house, one of them being their own, so they decide to figure it out and try to present the police with a fait accompli…
It’s all very fun, exactly as I would expect from K.J. Charles, and I’m a little disappointed I’ve finished it already.