Tag: mystery

Review – Murder in the Basement

Posted June 3, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Murder in the Basement

Murder in the Basement

by Anthony Berkeley

Genres: Crime, Mystery
Pages: 224
Series: British Library Crime Classics
Rating: four-stars
Synopsis:

When two newlyweds discover that a corpse has been buried in the basement of their new home, a gruelling case begins to trace the identity of the victim. With all avenues of investigation approaching exhaustion, a tenuous piece of evidence offers a chance for Chief Inspector Moresby and leads him to the amateur sleuth Roger Sheringham, who has recently been providing cover work in a school south of London.

Desperate for evidence of any kind on the basement case, Moresby begins to sift through the manuscript of a satirical novel Sheringham has been writing about his colleagues at the school, convinced that amongst the colourful cast of teachers hides the victim – and perhaps their murderer.

A novel pairing dark humour and intelligent detection work, this 1932 ‘whowasdunin?’ mystery is an example of a celebrated Golden Age author’s most inventive work.

Anthony Berkeley was a clever writer, and never one to rest on his laurels. I’m not a fan of his detectives, nor particularly the way he wrote female characters, but Murder in the Basement was structured really interestingly, and it’s not the first book by him that played around with structure which I’ve read. In this case, the middle section of the book is a fictionalisation of the chief suspects, written by Roger Sheringham before the crime was committed, and which allows us to begin to guess at the motives — and identity — of both murderer and victim.

I found it a little frustrating to go so long without being able to guess even who the victim was, and I’m not certain that part was really fair-play. But perhaps it’d have made it too obvious too soon to reveal it earlier…

Anyway, the story itself is fascinating, and Berkeley’s playing around with the rules of the genre as well, so it’s not the cosy and neatly contained package that some classic mysteries are. I definitely admired it, even as I wished he could just once like a woman and portray one positively!

Rating: 4/5

Tags: , , , , ,

Divider

Review – Eight Detectives

Posted May 26, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 1 Comment

Review – Eight Detectives

Eight Detectives

by Alex Pavesi

Genres: Crime, Mystery
Pages: 352
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

A thrilling, wildly inventive nesting doll of a mystery, in which a young editor travels to a remote village in the Mediterranean in the hopes of convincing a reclusive writer to republish his collection of detective stories, only to realize that there are greater mysteries beyond the pages of books.

There are rules for murder mysteries. There must be a victim. A suspect. A detective. The rest is just shuffling the sequence. Expanding the permutations. Grant McAllister, a professor of mathematics, once sat down and worked them all out – calculating the different orders and possibilities of a mystery into seven perfect detective stories he quietly published. But that was thirty years ago. Now Grant lives in seclusion on a remote Mediterranean island, counting the rest of his days.

Until Julia Hart, a sharp, ambitious editor knocks on his door. Julia wishes to republish his book, and together they must revisit those old stories: an author hiding from his past, and an editor, keen to understand it.

But there are things in the stories that don’t add up. Inconsistencies left by Grant that a sharp-eyed editor begins to suspect are more than mistakes. They may be clues, and Julia finds herself with a mystery of her own to solve.

Alex Pavesi's The Eighth Detective is a cerebral, inventive novel with a modern twist, where nothing is what it seems, and proof that the best mysteries break all the rules.

I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Alex Pavesi’s Eight Detectives is certainly a fascinating idea: the odd-numbered chapters are short stories, written in-world by one of the characters, which each have strange contradictions and illustrate a mathematical theory — the mathematics of mystery fiction, no less. One of the characters thinks that each story also holds a clue to a particular murder, and spends her time trying to pry into it and figure out the puzzle within the mysteries.

It all fell apart a bit for me with the alternative endings to each of the stories — too much recapping, and sometimes the story as you first read it makes more sense. Of course something like it is needed to bring the stories together and complete the puzzle around in the frame story, but it felt clunkily done. Maybe if there had been just one or two changed endings, or if the changed endings were shorter.

Also, it’s a silly thing to nitpick, but for some reason one of the characters says that nobody was interested in mystery fiction after the war, meaning World War II. I can’t tell if that’s supposed to be a genuine explanation (which would be ridiculous) or if it’s meant to be highlighting a certain character’s inconsistencies and lack of knowledge. I suppose I’d think better of it if it were the latter, and it would make sense given the givens, but hmm…!

It’s an interesting puzzlebox of a story, all the same.

Rating: 3/5

Tags: , , , ,

Divider

Review – London Particular

Posted May 20, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – London Particular

London Particular

by Christianna Brand

Genres: Crime, Mystery
Pages: 256
Series: British Library Crime Classics
Rating: two-stars
Synopsis:

Night falls in the capital, and a “London particular” pea-souper fog envelops the city. In Maida Vale, Rose and her family doctor Tedwards struggle through the dark after a man has telephoned from Rose’s house, claiming to have been attacked. By the time they arrive the victim, Raoul Vernet, is dead. The news he brought from Switzerland for Rose’s mother has died with him.

Arriving to the scene, Inspector Cockrill faces a fiendish case with seven suspects who could have murdered their guest – family members and friends with alibis muddled by the suffocating fog and motives wrapped in mystery. Now, the race is on to find the truth before the killer strikes again.

First published in 1952, London Particular was Brand’s favourite among her own books, and it remains a fast-paced and witty masterpiece of the genre, showing off the author’s signature flair for the ruthless twist.

Christianna Brand’s mysteries aren’t entirely my thing, and London Particular is perhaps the not-my-thingest. One of the major characters, Rosie, has been sleeping around and got pregnant, and much of the narrative revolves around tearing her down for it — exposing her petty lies without sympathy, and to put it baldly, slut-shaming her all the way. Some of the other characters pity her, and yet it’s not a kind sort of pity.

Of course, the book and its judgements are a product of their time, but that doesn’t make it any more pleasant to read. Rosie’s a careless girl, true enough, and her actions make her a little unlikeable at times, but none of that is helped by the fact that the narrative doesn’t like her. Oddly enough, she reminds me of Thea Gilmore’s song “Rosie“, not just in name.

Anyway, the mystery itself is alright. It avoids some of the trends I’ve seen in Brand’s other books, so it surprised me a little in that sense, and there’s some genuine tension in the court scenes, and in the way some of the characters try to shield each other, stand up for one another. But… mostly Brand’s work isn’t quite my thing. I don’t think she had much sympathy for other women who didn’t fit her mould, and it shows.

Rating: 2/5

Tags: , , , , ,

Divider

Review – Murder in Vienna

Posted May 14, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Murder in Vienna

Murder in Vienna

by E.C.R. Lorac

Genres: Crime, Mystery
Pages: 194
Rating: four-stars
Synopsis:

Superintendent Macdonald, C.I.D., studied his fellow-passengers on the Vienna plane simply because he couldn’t help it, because he hadn’t conditioned himself to being on holiday. The distinguished industrialist he recognised: the stout man he put down (quite mistakenly) as a traveller in whisky. The fair girl was going to a job (he was right there) and the aggressive young man in the camel coat might be something bookish. Macdonald turned away from his fellow-passengers deliberately; they weren’t his business, he was on holiday - or so he thought.

Against the background of beautiful Vienna, with its enchanting palaces and gardens, its disenchanted back-streets and derelicts of war, E. C. R. Lorac constructs another great detective story with all its complexities, an exciting and puzzling crime story.

I really love E.C.R. Lorac’s work, for a lot of reasons I’ve written about before, and it boils down to two gifts that she had. One, she was good at characters, and especially at creating likeable characters. Two, she has a great sense for place, and for showing how a place is lived in — I thought at one point she was mostly good at describing rural locations and small towns, but this book (and others set in London) show she just had a gift in general of making anywhere sound lovely in its way. In this case, post-WWII Vienna.

The other thing to bear in mind is that even a character you like a lot might turn out to be a murderer, and that someone who’s a bit of a slimeball needn’t be the one who killed someone. If you read only one or two of her books, it’s easy to think that she’ll always point the finger at a certain type of character, but it isn’t the case.

Murder in Vienna captures the unsettled feeling of a city uneasy with what some of its inhabitants have done. The collaborators walk free, and it’s unclear who collaborated because they felt that they had to and who collaborated willingly. That isn’t completely germane to this story, it’s just part of the feeling of everything. But Vienna itself is beautiful in Lorac’s words, and through the eyes of Macdonald, one of the most human of the detectives of classic fiction (in my view). I found it all really enjoyable, not so much the mystery itself, but how the mystery inhabited Vienna and the anxious minds of those trying to believe that the ordeal is over and normality has returned.

Poor Macdonald really should be allowed a proper holiday at some point, though. If he could please be returning from holiday at the start of a book or something, that’d be nice. No more busman’s holidays for him, please.

Rating: 4/5

Tags: , , , ,

Divider

Review – The Ha-Ha Case

Posted May 7, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – The Ha-Ha Case

The Ha-Ha Case

by J.J. Connington

Genres: Crime, Mystery
Pages: 230
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

Johnnie Brandon is found dead while out shooting rabbits with his friends, and the problem is: Accident, Suicide, or Murder? It is all made very complicated by the financial entanglements in which his rapscallion of a father has tied up the estate, and by the fact that a gentlemanly lunatic with large gaps in his memory wanders on to the scene at the crucial moment. Time for the acumen of Chief Constable Sir Clinton Driffield to be brought to bear on the case.

J.J. Connington’s The Ha-Ha Case is a fairly run-of-the-mill mystery for the period, in many ways, but it relies on an interesting little quirk of inheritance law that I’d never seen before. “Borough English” is an inheritance law whereby the youngest child inherits, and it’s part of the mystery that the story revolves around, adding to the thicket of red herrings and complicating one’s intuitions. It sets up a neat little puzzle, and there’s a neat little trick to draw you astray as well.

It’s not really a fair-play mystery, in some ways, but I think that made it a better story… and I think a thoughtful reader can get there anyway. It’s more interesting as a puzzle than for any great insight into character, for all that the police detective is vividly evoked (with all his faults, including total self-absorption).

If you’re interested in mysteries of this period, then it’s a fun one; if you read mysteries of this period now and again for the soothing predictability, this one isn’t a stand-out in the bunch, but a solid choice. If you lack any special interest at all and are just a bit curious, it’s not where I’d start you out, but it wouldn’t be a terrible choice either. All in all, it’s pretty middle-of-the-road. Which sounds like damning with faint praise, but I won’t say no to trying a couple more by Connington.

By the way, it isn’t released by the British Library Crime Classics series. Someone just got clever with cover design.

Rating: 3/5

Tags: , , , ,

Divider

Review – The Religious Body

Posted April 30, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – The Religious Body

The Religious Body

by Catherine Aird

Genres: Crime, Mystery
Pages: 232
Series: The Calleshire Chronicles #1
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

The day begins like any other for Sister Mary St. Gertrude. When her alarm sounds at 5 a.m., Sister Mary begins rousting her convent sisters from their beds, starting with the Reverend Mother. Down the Order she goes with a knock and a warm blessing. But when the young nun reaches Sister Anne’s door, there is no answer. She assumes that Sister Anne got up early, and continues on her way.

But later, when a fellow nun leaves a bloody thumbprint on the sheet music for a hymn, and Sister Anne is nowhere to be found, it becomes apparent that something is very wrong. Then Sister Anne’s body is found at the bottom of a steep set of stairs, her veil askew and her head crushed.

Religious Body introduces the sophisticated Detective Inspector C. D. Sloan along with his eager and trustworthy sidekick, Detective Constable Crosby, and the acerbic Superintendent Leeyes in a mystery of holy proportions that will have readers guessing until the last page.

I think I picked up The Religious Body by Catherine Aird as a result of its inclusion in The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books (by Martin Edwards), if I recall correctly — it’s been a while since I added it to my wishlist, even though I read it surprisingly quickly after snagging a copy (I’m such a mood reader). Anyway, it’s a fairly standard-feeling mystery, partly from the point of view of the police, and partly from the point of view of the nuns who find one of their number dead in the cellar.

To me, the best parts are actually about the routine of the nunnery: the details of their lives, their interactions, their thoughts, all have something a bit different to offer, while the careful investigation by the police is all routine, and familiar from dozens of other books. I’m sure some of the details are inaccurate, but it’s a good stab at imagining (from an outsider’s point of view, as I presume Catherine Aird was not a nun) what it might be like to be part of such a community.

I didn’t guess the murderer right away, but possibly I should have — it didn’t seem too surprising once we got there, and I definitely realised who he was after his reaction to the joke the police repeat.

In the end, it’s a reasonably solid mystery that doesn’t particularly stand out except by virtue of the setting. I liked it well enough, without feeling a burning urge to read more by Aird.

Rating: 3/5

Tags: , , , ,

Divider

Review – The Tainted Cup

Posted April 21, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 6 Comments

Review – The Tainted Cup

The Tainted Cup

by Robert Jackson Bennett

Genres: Fantasy, Mystery
Pages: 410
Series: Shadow of the Leviathan #1
Rating: four-stars
Synopsis:

In an opulent mansion at the borders of the Empire, an Imperial officer lies dead – killed when a tree spontaneously erupted from his body. Even here, where contagions abound and the blood of the Leviathans works strange magical changes, it’s a death at once terrifying and impossible.

Called in to solve the crime is Ana Dolabra, an investigator whose reputation for brilliance is matched only by her eccentricity. At her side is her new assistant, Dinios Kol, an engraver, magically altered to possess a perfect memory.

Soon, the mystery leads to a scheme that threatens the safety of the Empire itself. For Ana, all this makes for a deliciously thorny puzzle – at last, something to truly hold her attention. And Din? He’ll just have to hold on for the ride.

An eccentric detective and her long-suffering assistant untangle a web of magic, deceit, and murder in this sparkling fantasy reimagining of the classic crime novel – from the bestselling author of The Founders Trilogy.

I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Robert Jackson Bennett’s books are always a lot of fun, and The Tainted Cup was no exception. It’s a fantasy world, though the relationship between Ana and Din smacks very much of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson (albeit with an additional superior/subordinate component, especially given that Din is only in training). The setting is a fascinating world that as yet has a lot sketched in around the edges — we see life on what is basically the frontier, the walls which repel gigantic attacking Titans from the sea, but there’s more to the Empire than that… and one suspects we’ll see more of that, in future books.

Though the exact shape, size and composition of the Empire might be sketchy, there is a lot of detail about the world to wonder over: the different ways people have been altered to suit others’ needs, the reagent keys, the poisons and medicines. There’s some serious body horror in all that — not just the trees sprouting from people’s bodies, but also the more subtle horror of the cracklers that doesn’t always get noted by the narration as being horrifying, and even Din’s own skills.

Once I settled into it, it was a surprisingly fast read for how chunky it looked, sweeping me along to the conclusion. I’d love to see more of the world, and get deeper into Ana’s investigation: in true Sherlock Holmes style, I didn’t always understand where her conclusions came from, and I don’t think it was an entirely fair play mystery (in part because it’s not our world), but I hope the next book is also a mystery: it’s always fun when my favourite genres cross.

Rating: 4/5

Tags: , , , ,

Divider

Review – The Corpse in the Waxworks

Posted April 18, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – The Corpse in the Waxworks

The Corpse in the Waxworks

by John Dickson Carr

Genres: Crime, Mystery
Pages: 288
Series: British Library Crime Classics
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

"The purpose, the illusion, the spirit of a waxworks. It is an atmosphere of death. It is soundless and motionless... Do you see?"

Last night Mademoiselle Duchêne was seen heading into the Gallery of Horrors at the Musée Augustin waxworks, alive. Today she was found in the Seine, murdered. The museum's proprietor, long perturbed by the unnatural vitality of his figures, claims that he saw one of them following the victim into the dark—a lead that Henri Bencolin, head of the Paris police and expert of 'impossible' crimes, cannot possibly resist.

Surrounded by the eerie noises of the night, Bencolin prepares to enter the ill-fated waxworks, his associate Jeff Marle and the victim's fiancé in tow. Waiting within, beneath the glass-eyed gaze of a leering waxen satyr, is a gruesome discovery and the first clues of a twisted and ingenious mystery.

John Dickson Carr’s The Corpse in the Waxworks was surprisingly in the middle for me — usually I quite dislike John Dickson Carr’s earlier work and books involving Henri Bencolin, though I’ve later come to enjoy some of his Gideon Fell stories.

This one’s not one of his more famous, and isn’t a locked room mystery, meaning it actually felt less contrived than some of them. And Bencolin wasn’t quite as annoying as I usually find him, though I wasn’t a huge fan either; his sidekick (Marle) is just kind of vanilla, really, though he gets his own little action sequence (predictable as it is).

In the end, it felt relatively straightforward as Carr’s mysteries go, and without any femmes being too fatale, and it did have an intriguing sense of atmosphere around the masked club and the waxworks — a little bit creepy, a little bit high-strung.

Not a new favourite by any means, but more enjoyable than I expected.

Rating: 3/5

Tags: , , , , ,

Divider

Review – A Telegram from Le Touquet

Posted April 8, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – A Telegram from Le Touquet

A Telegram from Le Touquet

by John Bude

Series: British Library Crime Classics
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

With some trepidation Nigel Derry approaches the country house of his enigmatic and unpredictable aunt Gwenny for an Easter holiday visit. After a tense few days in which her guests’ interactions range from awkward dinners to a knife fight, a disgruntled aunt Gwenny departs for Europe. Receiving a telegram from Le Touquet inviting him to join Gwenny in the south of France, Nigel finds himself on a vacation cut short by murder as a cold shadow of suspicion eclipses the sunny beauty of the Côte d’Azur.

Enter Inspector Blampignon of the Sûreté Nationale, whose problems abound as the case suggests that the crime may have occurred hundreds of miles away from where the victim was discovered. Undeterred, the formidable French detective embarks on a thrilling race to discover the truth in this rare and spirited mystery novel, first published in 1956.

A Telegram from Le Touquet is pretty much what one expects of John Bude: a mostly competent mystery without flair, with a few thumbnail sketches of characters but not great psychological depth. It starts with a section from the point of view of someone who eventually becomes a suspect, Nigel, allowing Bude to set the scene for Gwenny and her web of jealousies and secrets. After that, we turn to the mystery proper, with the scene set with a few unpleasant people and a few nondescript generic character types.

Certain aspects of it I had worked out pretty quickly, but the pieces didn’t all fit together right away, which kept me occupied for a while, but mostly I didn’t get super interested in the cast and who might be the killer, and I kind of suspected the alibi thing pretty early on. Inspector Meredith makes a tiny cameo, but it’s mostly Blampignon (who also appeared in Death on the Riviera). Meh either way, really.

This all sounds like damning with very faint praise, but it was reasonably well paced, it sowed clues and didn’t spend too much time belaboring them, and sometimes in the very predictableness of mysteries of this era there’s a sort of comfort.

Rating: 3/5

Tags: , , , , ,

Divider

Review – Ghosts in the Hedgerow

Posted April 1, 2024 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Review – Ghosts in the Hedgerow

Ghosts in the Hedgerow

by Tom Moorhouse

Genres: Mystery, Non-fiction, Science
Pages: 271
Rating: three-stars
Synopsis:

A body lies motionless on the ground. Small, with a snouty head and covered with spines, it is unquestionably dead before its time. And all of those gathered around the corpse are suspect. So which one of them is responsible for this crime - and for the disappearance of many many thousands of hedgehogs in recent decades?

Is it the car driver, the badger, the farmer, the gardener ..? Who could possibly have it in for a hedgehog? In poll after poll they come out top as our favourite mammal. And yet their numbers are estimated to have halved in less than twenty years. Magnifying glass in hand, Tom Moorhouse investigates the evidence. On a vital mission to bring those responsible to justice, prevent further murder and save a species, he uncovers a story full of twists, turns and uncomfortable truths about the trade-offs that exist between humans and wildlife. But he can also see a solution.

Tom Moorehouse’s Ghosts in the Hedgerow tries to use the whodunnit format to interrogate what might be causing the decline in hedgehog numbers seen in the UK in recent years. It does undermine the whole premise right from the get-go by explaining that the decline is only really known anecdotally: hedgehog numbers aren’t really properly counted, and we rely on a bunch of estimates which aren’t really comparable between decades (e.g. between hunters trying to kill hedgehogs before they became a protected species, who would specifically seek them out, and now birdwatchers who may incidentally spot hedgehogs).

Nonetheless, he makes a convincing case that their numbers are declining (which I didn’t really doubt in the first place), and then trots through the suspects: road traffic, badgers, farmland bereft of hedgerows (in contrast to traditional farming), and home/garden design. None of the suspects are surprising if you’ve been at all awake to hedgehog ecology (which I have, as my parents have a hedgehog-friendly garden, and my garden is as well), and of course the final answer isn’t surprising either: it’s all of those things.

It’s a fun idea for a format, but if you’re already interested in hedgehogs, there isn’t much new here. The exact details of how hedgehogs and badgers interact were new to me, but that was about it. However, if you don’t know much about hedgehogs, other than finding them cute, then this could very well be a fun and easy way to learn more, and learn about how to make a difference to them.

To sum it up very quickly: cut holes in your fences so hedgehogs can pass through, use strimmers with caution, don’t use autonomous lawnmowers, rewild your garden, put out some supplementary food for them and a bowl of water, and try to convince other people to do the same (while writing to your MP etc etc about making changes in law). And don’t drive a car, especially not as it starts to get dark and through the night, when hedgehogs roam.

Rating: 3/5

Tags: , , , , ,

Divider