There is something really sinister and dark about this book. It’s one of those where drug-taking/mental illness really pushes the plot, and it leads to some really gruesome moments. That atmosphere is the best thing about the book, I think: that sense that you don’t quite know what’s going to happen next, because it seems like it could be anything. It’s not very subtle, but it works pretty well.
Of course, I don’t love mysteries which rely on mental illness for their sense of danger and their motives, because the facts are that mentally ill people are more likely to be attacked than to be the attackers, by quite a margin. But it’s a classic trope and this is a classic book, from a less aware time, so while I wouldn’t recommend it if that kind of thing really gets to you, I don’t hold it against it too much in how I enjoyed it.
Mind you, considering I didn’t like the detective that much and found the Watson rather boring, I’m not sure how to rate it. The sense of atmosphere is definitely worth something, though, and it’s not as though I found it a hard read. Until I sat down to think about it, I’d have gone with three stars easily.
I enjoy Phryne as a general proposition, but I find myself saying with almost every book (at least later in the series) that it’s not a favourite and I wouldn’t particularly recommend it on its own. If you like Phryne, it’s more of her usual, with daringness, nice clothes, some good food and a sexy man. It fits the formula and at least this one introduces her sister as an actual character, with interests and problems of her own. It’s all the usual glitz and glamour and peril you expect from Phryne, and nothing particularly surprising, moving or suspenseful. You know she’s going to come out okay in the end.
Which all sounds like damning with faint praise, which isn’t quite what I mean either. If you enjoy Phryne, it’s fine. It’s just not one that stands out to me, except maybe for some of Lin Chung’s interactions with his extended family, which make me laugh (though they are perhaps a tad stereotyped, as well).
The other Miles Burton book I’ve read was fun, but the plot was kind of out there. Death in the Tunnel is a little more down to earth, and I ended up devouring it. Burton’s writing is crisp and sure, and while the story has its twists and turns, it all makes perfect sense. Never are you left feeling that the detective has made a sudden leap and left you behind — you have the clues you need, provided you can make something of them.
I can’t really put my finger on why it worked so well for me: it’s just well-structured, with enough to keep one interested and some odd puzzles along the way. It’s also a glimpse at some interesting characters — the murder victim, for example, is fascinatingly self-righteous and determined he’s doing the right thing, while somehow managing to justify fraud. And it all makes sense, too; you can see the character and what drives him.
The fact that the detective (not the police officer, but the independent guy the policeman consults for some reason) is the same guy from The Secret of High Eldersham is kind of irrelevant: he remains a bit of a non-entity, just distinguished by being clever. The point of the book is more the mystery-solving through the understanding of the characters and clues presented. I enjoyed it, but if you were looking for a good series detective, Desmond Merrion isn’t the one.
This was a favourite when I was a kid: I loved the other books a little less, I think, but this one got very worn and tattered. I reread it during my exams mostly just because it caught my eye, and I wanted to revisit Sally and Frederick and Rosa and the smoky, sinister world of Victorian London which Pullman evokes in these books. I remembered almost every detail of the story, every step in the sequence, but it was still fun to read and think about how I loved and looked up to an independent character like Sally (her immaturity shows to me, now, as an adult, but she’s still pretty awesome all the same).
It was also nice to appreciate the details that went into some of this — Pullman did his homework in learning about the photography business, in painting a picture of that time and place which felt real, if sometimes a bit too squalid to be true. (Though Dickens was praised for realism, and Mrs Holland’s lodging house could have come right out of a Dickens novel, I think.)
The whole opium/India/ruby stuff was a little uncomfortable and felt like exoticisation, treating a troubled time in the history of a British colony like it was just a penny dreadful, but it’s hard to judge, and it still works when you lay that aside and embrace the penny dreadful feel — a thing I’m sure is intentional, because Pullman demonstrates several times in the story that he’s well aware of the kind of content of penny dreadfuls, and lampshades the similarities a bit through Jim’s reading of the whole situation.
Overall, it’s still enjoyable, even if I have more doubts now. I’d probably have given it five stars back then.
Reading these is just like a holiday for my brain — undemanding, quick, but usually reasonably satisfying. I actually got a little bit more involved with this one that I expected, and found myself really disappointed by whodunnit — not because it was badly written or didn’t make sense, but because I didn’t want that character to be the culprit. Alas. Everything was worked out very cleverly, though, and involved a good amount of solid policework rather than gut feelings, etc, which I always find more interesting than magical solutions.
It’s not the most sparkling of writing, but it works. I’m not in a tearing hurry to read more books by Freeman Wills Croft, but I don’t plan to avoid them either. It’s like a nice snack: solid enough to keep me going, though I’ll be wanting a fuller meal later on.
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.