Antidote to Venom by Freeman Wills Crofts

Antidote to Venom cover

Antidote to Venom by Freeman Wills Crofts was first published in 1938 but as you can see my copy is a British Library Classics one.

I quite enjoyed this one, but I felt that it dragged quite a bit in the middle, I seem to remember that I’ve felt the same about a few of his books.

George Surridge is the director of a zoo, it’s his dream job, and it comes with a comfortable house so he should be sitting pretty. Unfortunately he is married to a woman who is a social climber who had been spoiled by her parents and doesn’t seem to understand that George doesn’t have an endless supply of money for her to spend. The result is that George is always strapped for cash and is forever worried about it.

Clarissa’s attitude takes a toll on the marriage and when George meets a more sympathetic female he falls for her hard. This of course means that he gets into even deeper debt as he hires a flashy car to take her out and about – far away from his home. He dreams of getting free of his wife and so begins a convoluted murderous plan.

Unusually the author manages to make all of the main characters fairly likeable, so it’s quite a sad tale of broken lives due to bad decisions.

The covers of these British Library Crime Classics are usually quite stylish but I can’t say that I’m all that keen on this one.

The Z Murders by J. Jefferson Farjeon

 The Z Murders cover

The Z Murders by J. Jefferson Farjeon was first published in 1932, but I read a 2015 British Crime Library Classics reprint which has an introduction by Martin Edwards.

I enjoyed this one, but not as much as his Mystery in White. Farjeon has a lovely turn of phrase at times, but towards the end of this book I began to feel that a major character was just too bizarre for words.

Again, a railway journey features in the story, I wonder if that was a bit of a motif where his writing was concerned. Not that I’m complaining because I think that a train instantly sets the scene for vintage crime.

Richard Temperley is travelling overnight by train from the north of England to Euston in London. Of course those overnight trains always get into London at crazily early times of the morning, it’s too early for Temperley to travel on to his sister’s house so he decides to spend some hours resting in a nearby hotel’s smoking-room.

The man that shared Temperley’s train compartment also ends up in the same smoking-room. He had ruined Temperley’s sleep through constant snoring so when Temperley realises that the man is no longer snoring he checks on him, sure enough – he’s dead – shot. The police are called and so begins a chase around the country from London to Bristol and back north again. In fact they were travelling along a road that I knew well, that’s always a plus for me.

But towards the end the storyline became very unlikely and I would say just about impossible. I think the author got fed up writing and just wound it up.

It’s still worth reading though and if possible I would give it a 3.5 on Goodreads.

Mystery in White by J. Jefferson Farjeon

Mystery in White by J. Jefferson Farjeon was first published in 1937. It is of course one of those British Library Crime Classics and has been very popular with bloggers recently, and rightly so.

Its subtitled A Christmas Crime Story, and I had decided to keep this one to read around Christmas, however the festive season has crept up on me so quickly and silently this year (is it the unseasonally warm weather?) that I almost forgot to read it last week.

I can’t say it got me into the mood for Christmas, which was my original idea for reading it around now, but it is a very good read, quite creepy and atmospheric. Initially I was a wee bit disappointed that the setting is not actually a snowed up train, which is what I thought from the cover.

It has been snowing for days and so it’s not really a huge surprise when a train full of passengers gets stuck in the snow near the village of Hemmersby. After waiting for a long time for something to happen, some of the passengers who have been chatting to each other decide to get off the train and make their way over the fields, hoping to be able to continue their journey home somehow.

The weather is much worse than they had expected and they have to find shelter from the snow, a large country house looms up at them through the blizzard conditions. The front door isn’t locked, fires are blazing away in the hearths, the table is set for tea, and the kettle is boiling away, but there is nobody around. It’s like the Marie Celeste.

There’s a portrait hanging above the fireplace in the hall, it’s of an elderly man and his eyes seem to follow everyone around.

You get the idea, as I said it’s an enjoyable read even although I was slightly disappointed that the story swiftly moved away from the train as I do love a train setting, but then – I’m not averse to an old spooky country house setting either.

Recent Book Purchases

We were in Edinburgh showing a bookish friend our favourite book haunts in Stockbridge. Honestly I had absolutely no intention of looking at books myself, but you know what it’s like, a book spine captures you attention – and you’re doomed. So I bought this lot:

Latest Book Haul

1. A Croft in the Hills by Katharine Stewart. I bought this purely because of the unbelievably twee cover which is in very good condition, despite the book having been published in 1960.

2. The Peacock Spring by Rumer Godden. I read a lot of her books way back in the year dot when I worked in libraries, I now can’t remember which ones I’ve read for sure. I looked at this one and thought I haven’t read it, or certainly have no memory of it. I wish I had kept note of all the books I had read in the past.

3. The Citadel by A.J. Cronin. I was sure that I had this book already but I haven’t been able to find it so I must have given it away. Anyway, I’m not sure if I’ve even read it before as it’s only his Hatter’s Castle which sticks in my mind from way back. If anyone wants to join me in a readalong of The Citadel – let me know.

4. The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel. I’ve read the title story from this collection and I’m looking forward to reading the rest in this collection of short stories.

5. Nightingale Wood by Stella Gibbons. I’ve read her Cold Comfort books and loved them. The Matchmaker was okay, this one is a Virago publication so I have high hopes of it.

6. Murder in Piccadilly by Charles Kingston (1884-1944). This is another of those British Library Crime Classics. Kingston apparently wrote twenty crime novels but he’s new to me.

Have you read any of these book? If so, what did you think of them?

The Cornish Coast Murder by John Bude

The Cornish Coast Murder by John Bude, also known as Ernest Elmore, was first published in 1935 but my copy is one of those British Crime Library Classics reprints.

I quite enjoyed this book but again I think that there must have been better British vintage crime books which could have been reprinted before this one. I think that if I had been given this book to read but not told that it had been written by a man it wouldn’t have been long before I realised that the author was indeed male. They always seemed to concentrate more on teeny details and timing, at the expense of character and background. Or is that me madly generalising?

The setting is Boscawen, a small village in Cornwall, where Mr Dodd the local vicar and his friend the local doctor are in the habit of meeting once a week to have a meal and choose crime fiction books from a parcel of six which they have ordered from the library. They like to talk over the books they read and fancy themselves as connoisseurs of crime.

When Julius Tregarthen a local magistrate and landowner is murdered in his own sitting-room the local police are baffled. Inspector Bigswell (I had a real problem taking that name seriously!) really hopes that he won’t have to call in Scotland Yard but with few clues as far as he is concerned, he needs help from someone, and that turns out to be Reverend Dodd.

Bigswell is happy to have Dodd point him in the right direction and more or less solve the case. Completely different from poor Miss Marples’ experiences with police detectives of course – sexism no doubt. There’s also a policeman called Grouch, I don’t know if the names were meant to be amusing or what, anyway, I would give this one a 3 out of 5. I do love the cover though.

Murder Underground by Mavis Doriel Hay

Murder Underground by Mavis Doriel Hay is one of those recently republished British Library Crime Classics, the book was first published in 1934.

I had never heard of the author before but the blurb on the back has a wonderful endorsement by Dorothy L. Sayers who happens to be my favourite crime writer so I thought it would be a good read.

Sayers wrote in the Sunday Times, 1934:

‘This detective novel is much more than interesting. The numerous characters are well differentiated, and include one of the most feckless, exasperating and lifelike literary men that ever confused a trail.’

Sadly I can’t really say that I agree. For me this was just an okayish read and I felt it really did drag on.

Miss Pongleton is an elderly lady who owns the Frampton Hotel which is the sort of place which has a company of permanent residents. When Pongle, as she is known to them ends up murdered on a London Underground railway staircase, it seems obvious who the culprit is and the police make an early arrest. But of course it doesn’t end there. I almost said ‘more’s the pity’ but it wasn’t that bad, just not as good as I had hoped.

I can think of classic crime writers who would have been more deserving of being reprinted, and probably you can too.