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.
First of all, I love that the new edition has an introduction by Edward Petherbridge. Ian Carmichael was a brilliant voice for Peter, but if I could picture Peter, I think it’d be Petherbridge I’d see. And his introduction is fitting: erudite and respectful of Sayers’ work, but also playful.
The novel itself, well: it’s Strong Poison. I love it for so many reasons. Okay, I do get a little frustrated with Peter for making the fact that Harriet is likely to be hanged about how awful it is for him, when he barely knows her and has just fallen in love at first sight. But there’s so much witty banter, and Miss Climpson is a delight as well. And there’s the fact that this is the start of a relationship which is never fulfilled until it is equal: they start off so unequal, and Harriet’s prepared to just give in and leave things that way, but Peter steps back and waits and waits and… There could be an easy happy ending, but instead there’s a relationship that has to be worked at, until mutual respect is reached rather than pity or gratitude. No consent but free consent — how can I not applaud that story?
The mystery itself is of course tortuous, but you’d expect that from a Golden Age story like this. Peter, Miss Climpson and Bunter keep it from being weighed down — along with Parker’s delightful realisation about Mary.
The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, Dorothy L. Sayers
A reread, of course. Not the best of the Wimsey books, but full of Sayers’ usual brains and wit. There’s some excellent character interactions — especially one between Lord Peter and Parker, where Peter is somewhat resenting the fact that he’s working with the police and potentially having to betray friends. There’s some great quotes, like Peter saying that books are kind of like shells that we discard when we grow out of them, but which lie around as a record of people we used to be. Yes!
This is one of the not-really-high-stakes mysteries, though; the death was of an old man, and was somewhat predictable, and the person who killed him didn’t try to cover his tracks by attacking other people. It becomes more of an intellectual puzzle, though there are some good bits about the feelings of particular characters. I don’t want to say too much in case anyone’s interested in reading this and forming their own opinions about the murder, so I’ll stop there! A solid mystery, but not the most emotionally involving of the Wimsey books, nor the cleverest.
It’s fun approaching these books now I’ve introduced my wife to them, via the radioplays and Edward Petherbridge TV series. (I think most of my gifts from her this year have been Wimsey themed… a bunch of the new editions of the books for my birthday, and then the Petherbridge series on DVD for Christmas!) It gives me a bit of a fresh eye to appreciate things all over again; the wittiness of Sayers’ writing, the cleverness of the plot, the way the characters all work together. Miss Climpson is a delight, up to and including the wry observations on how she’s actually rather nosy, despite saying she’s not. Parker is the perfect partner for Peter when investigating, willing to put in the hard graft which Peter is constitutionally unsuited for. And Bunter… well. I don’t know what Peter would do without him.
The murder/mystery part is rather fun, because it has two key problems: there’s no discernible motive, and there’s no discernible method. Peter has to track down both, and without saying too much, the legal problem on which the plot hangs is rather clever once you work it out, though infuriating while you’re trying to get there. The murder method… well. Embarrassingly simple, but just sneaky enough that it’s difficult to prove.
It’s not my favourite of Sayers’ books, but it’s witty, cleverly written, and definitely worth spending time with.
Reading this a second time, I liked it more; I think my theory the first time I read it that it’d lost some of its freshness because I’d been reading too many Phryne books in a row was probably true. It gives us a glimpse of a different Phryne, and the experiences that made her the person she was, covering her life in Paris just after the war, and that’s pretty interesting — you can see it informing the way she chooses her lovers in the present-day of the books, and how she really became tough as nails.
It’s also nice because the book gives us a little more focus on Bert and Cec — a little more of a glimpse at their history and their bond, and some of their friends.
Against that, the plot with the girl who was going to marry a chef feels very light, almost inconsequential. It does help keep the book moving along when there’s a lot of other emotions that could make it heavy-going, but it’s not memorable or especially interesting in itself.