Tag: mystery


Review – The Ruby in the Smoke

Posted 5 July, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Ruby in the Smoke by Philip PullmanThe Ruby in the Smoke, Philip Pullman

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.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Mystery in the Channel

Posted 27 June, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Murder in the Channel by Freeman Wills CroftMystery in the Channel, Freeman Wills Croft

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.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Secret of High Eldersham

Posted 16 June, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Secret of High Eldersham by Miles BurtonThe Secret of High Eldersham, Miles Burton

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.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Murder in Piccadilly

Posted 10 June, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Murder in Piccadilly by Charles KingstonMurder in Piccadilly, Charles Kingston

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.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Seven Dead

Posted 29 May, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 1 Comment

Cover of Seven Dead by J. Jefferson FarjeonSeven DeadJ. Jefferson Farjeon

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.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Death on the Cherwell

Posted 21 May, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Death on the Cherwell by Mavis Doriel HayDeath on the Cherwell, Mavis Doriel Hay

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.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Cornish Coast Murder

Posted 27 April, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 5 Comments

Cover of The Cornish Coast Murder by John BudeThe Cornish Coast Murder, John Bude

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.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Bats in the Belfry

Posted 23 April, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Bats in the Belfry by E.C.R.LoracBats in the Belfry, E.C.R. Lorac

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.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Poisoned Chocolates Case

Posted 16 April, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of The Poisoned Chocolates Case by Anthony BerkeleyThe Poisoned Chocolates Case, Anthony Berkeley

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.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Meddling Kids

Posted 9 April, 2018 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Meddling Kids by Edgar CanteroMeddling Kids, Edgar Cantero

There’s a lot that I found annoying about this book: the allergy to using the word “said” (in one page: smirked, ranted, argued, retorted, started — and not one ‘said’), some of the made-up words and overenthusiastic descriptions of Kerri’s hair being alive, the breaking of the fourth wall… On the other hand, it’s all part of the exuberant pastiche, I think. And mostly it does work, for me anyway: I had a lot of fun. It’s goofy, but it’s pretty much Scooby Doo: of course it is.

For that reason, it’s reasonably predictable if you’ve seen a couple of episodes of classic Scooby Doo (plus maybe the movies like Zombie Island where it turns out that some supernatural stuff is real). Well, except for the Latina heroine, the lesbians, and the fact that one of the four is already dead.

It’s not the best thing I’ve read all year, but it was such solid fun I can’t give it less than four stars. I can understand those who find it too annoying, but for me it just about toed the line.

Rating: 4/5

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