Christmas Reads

To try to get me into the Christmas mood I’ll be reading some Christmas related books, sadly so far the only one that I have in the house unread is Silent Nights Christmas Mysteries edited by Martin Edwards and it’s a British Library Crime Classic. This is one that I didn’t get around to reading last year, but I’m half-way through it now and finding it to be a good read.

Silent Nights

This collection of short stories features the writers below, some of whom I’ve never even heard of before.
Arthur Conan Doyle
Ralph Plummer
Raymund Allen
G.K. Chesterton
Edgar Wallace
H.C. Bailey
J.Jefferson Farjeon
Dorothy L. Sayers
Margery Allingham
Ethel Lina White
Marjorie Bowen
Joseph Shearing
Nicholas Blake
Edmund Crispin
Leo Bruce

Fell Murder by E.C.R. Lorac

 Fell Murder cover

Fell Murder by E.C.R. Lorac was first published in 1944 but I borrowed a British Library Crime Classics reprint from the library. This is the first book by Lorac that I’ve read and I really enjoyed it. Lorac was the pseudonym of Edith Caroline Rivett who also wrote under the name of Carol Carnac.

The setting is during World War 2 and the north of England Lake Country, an area that the author obviously loved. Garthmere Hall is an ancient pile which is far too big for the Garth family to be able to maintain. Over the generations they must have become progressively poorer and they’re now just a hard working farming family. But they’re all ruled by their elderly father who is miserably mean and doesn’t even pay wages to his off-spring.

My favourite kind of crime fiction is the sort where a body is found almost immediately, so the fact that murder isn’t committed until page 66 should have been a problem for me, but I enjoyed the scene setting. The local police in the shape of Superintendent Layng manage to rub all of the locals up the wrong way but when Macdonald of Scotland Yard is called in his attitude to them and his obvious appreciation of the surroundings gets better results. I’m really looking forward to reading more by the author.

Although the setting is wartime there’s no rationing of food! Those in rural communities who were actually growing food did have ways and means of dodging such things. Something that Macdonald appreciated.

The cover of this book was taken from an LMS travel poster of Shap Fell and it does look a bit dull compared with some of the covers in this series, but the contents are better than many of those ones.

Resorting to Murder edited by Martin Edwards

 Resorting to Murder cover

Resorting to Murder edited by Martin Edwards is subtitled Holiday Mysteries and it’s a collection of short stories all of which take place at holiday locations of some sort. and of course it’s published by British Library Crime Classics.

The stories are:

The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot by Arthur Conan Doyle
A Schoolmaster Abroad by E.W. Hornung
Murder! by Arnold Bennett
The Murder on the Golf Links by M. McDonnell Bodkin
The Finger Stone by G.K. Chesterton
The Vanishing of Mrs Fraser by Basil Thomson
A Mystery of the Sand-Hills by R.Austin Freeman
The Hazel Ice by H.C. Bailey
Razor Edge by Anthony Berkeley
Holiday Task by Leo Bruce
A Posteriori by Helen Simpson
Where is Mr Manetot by Phyllis Bentley
The House of Screams by Gerald Findler
Cousin Once Removed by Michael Gilbert

This collection has quite a few stories by authors that I’ve never read before. I’ve never been a big fan of Sherlock Holmes and sure enough – The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot wasn’t a favourite of mine.

I particularly liked the stories by R. Austin Freeman, Anthony Berkeley, Leo Bruce, Helen Simpson and Michael Gilbert.

The design for the cover of this book has been taken from a vintage railway poster for Colwyn Bay.

Excellent Intentions by Richard Hull

 Excellent Intentions cover

Excellent Intentions by Richard Hull is a British Library Crime Classics reprint which was first published in 1938.

This book begins with the prosecution in a murder case and so the reader discovers the ins and outs of the death of Henry Cargate – the wealthiest inhabitant of Great Barwick. He was a man who went out of his way to rub people up the wrong way and never missed a chance to throw his weight about and let people know just how well off he was.

During the prosecution and defence the reader has absolutely no idea who is in the dock being tried. I must say that very early on I guessed who the culprit was and I was feeling a bit miffed about it, but literally on the last page the author redeemed himself with an unusual twist, something that apparently Richard Hull made a habit of doing.

The book cover has been taken from a 1930s travel poster for Epping Forest in Essex. It looks lovely, but whenever I hear the words Epping Forest it reminds me that when I lived in Essex in the 1970s I was told that that was where the London gangsters buried the bodies!

The Colour of Murder by Julian Symons

 The Colour of Murder cover

The Colour of Murder by Julian Symons was first published in 1957 but British Library Crime Classics reprinted it in 2018. It has an introduction by Martin Edwards.

John Wilkins sort of drifted into marriage with May who came from a rough background and is a determined social climber, but as wives go – she’s cold and materialistic. Unfortunately John’s family’s wealth is in the past and he’s working in the complaints department of a department store in Oxford.

When John goes to the local library to change a library book he falls for Sheila the new young assistant, and becomes somewhat obsessed by her, almost immediately he’s wishing that May didn’t exist. John has given up just about everything that he enjoyed doing before he married May, she just wants to play bridge and disapproved of him being a member of the tennis club. Sheila is a member of the club so he starts playing tennis again and eventually gets a date with her, of course Sheila doesn’t know he’s married.

It’s all going to be very messy, but not in the way that most readers would have anticipated.

I’m not sure if it’s just that I’ve read too many vintage crime books recently or if this is a particularly predictable book, but I knew what was going on as soon as there was a murder – and that’s always a disappointment.

I was particularly annoyed because I read a book by Symons called Bloody Murder which is his thoughts on a lot of vintage crime fiction writers and he fairly tore into a few of them. He really didn’t rate Elizabeth Ferrars at all, but I think all of the books I’ve read by her have been better than this one. The cover is good though as ever from British Library Crime Classics. It has been taken from a 1930s holiday poster advertising the south-east of England holiday resort of Brighton in East Sussex.

New to me books

I’ve banned myself from the library – again, which is just as well as I seem to be hauling home new to me books almost on a weekly basis. Yep I was book-mugged again.

More Books

I couldn’t say no to another Blackie’s book, this time it was –
1. A Book of Stories from the Norse.

Yet another Blackie book, complete with dustjacket is
2.St Catherine’s College by Angela Brazil

Two British Library Crime Classics jumped out at me:

3. The Colour of Murder by Julian Symons – and

4. The Christmas Card Crime – a book of short stories which I’ll keep for next Christmas reading.

and lastly, I was given a book by a friend as it was a doubler, he hadn’t remembered that he already had this one (we’ve all been there I’m sure)

5. Dunstan by Conn Iggulden

I’ve never read anything by that author before. Have you read any of these books?

The Poisoned Chocolates Case by Anthony Berkeley

The Poisoned Chocolates Case by Anthony Berkeley was first published in 1929 but I read the recent British Library Crime Classics reprint. It has an introduction by Martin Edwards.

The book begins at a gathering of the Crime Circle, a club for crime fiction writers, and Chief Inspector Moresby of Scotland Yard has gone there to ask the writers for their help. The Scotland Yard detectives are stumped over a case of murder by poisoning and Moresby hopes that the writers might be able to give them some new ideas as to who the culprit might be.

This of course involves each of the writers in turn explaining how they think the murder was committed and by whom. They all come up with different ideas of course, but which one is correct?

This isn’t my favourite style of writing as it can become a bit tedious at times with the constant repetition of facts in the case. I found myself being more interested in who the fictional detectives were based on in reality. I think that Dorothy L. Sayers was very easy to spot, but I’m not so sure about the other two female writers.

In 1979 the writer Christianna Brand wrote yet another solution to this murder puzzle and that chapter is included in this book, and Martin Edwards has the last word with his epilogue.

If you’re interested you can read about Anthony Berkeley in an interesting article by Martin Edwards here

Death Makes a Prophet by John Bude

Death Makes a Prophet cover

Death Makes a Prophet by John Bude is another British Library Crime Classics book and it was first published in 1947. It has an introduction by Martin Edwards. I loved this one which kept me guessing right to the end.

The setting is one of the new ‘garden city’ towns which were set up post World War 2. Welworth Garden City is obviously a bit of a mash up between Welwyn Garden City (I lived there briefly in the 1970s) and Letchworth, both of them in Hertfordshire – southern England.

Welworth has the reputation of being a forward-thinking town which attracted people who were maybe a bit different from most – vegetarians, socialists and in particular people who were followers of unusual new religions. The cult of The Children of Osiris is one of the most popular religions and has attracted several thousand followers with many of them settling in Welworth.

The religion was founded by Eustace K. Mildman who of course made himself the High Prophet of the sect and has thought up lots of odd rites for the followers to take part in, and he has obviously profited from it. The whole religion is being bankrolled by a wealthy woman and there are jealousies and resentments amongst the followers.

Things come to a head which means that Inspector Meredith has to be called in to do his stuff. This is a great read with entertaining humorous touches now and again.

The Lake District Murder by John Bude

The Lake District Murder cover

The Lake District Murder by John Bude was first published in 1935, but I read the British Library Crime Classics reprint.

This book begins well with a murder almost immediately, just the way I like it, but Inspector William Meredith gets completely side-tracked by another mystery for most of the book. Bude seems to have modelled his writing style on that of Freeman Wills Crofts, but he ended up being more convoluted and detailed than FWC and it became very tedious.

He was so concerned with the plot that he made very little of the various characters, most of which are male. I longed for Mrs Meredith to make an appearance, but after a short but spirited spat with her husband the detective, she almost completely disappeared.

The lovely scenery of the Lake District barely gets a mention. John Bude seems to have assumed that his books would be read by men – and men who were just keen on calculations and measurements at that. I was really amused by this part though:

Wick expectorated with a mingled air of disdain and disgust and pulled out a packet of Woodbines. He had now completed the charging of the petrol tank and was leaning back against one of the pumps, watching the Inspector with ill-concealed impatience.

“Now look here, Wick,” said Meredith briskly. “I want to know something. What time did the Nonock lorry leave your garage last night?”

Wick slowly lit his cigarette, considering the point.

Health and Safety would go nuts if you lit up whilst leaning against a fuel pump nowadays!!

I found this book to be quite disappointing, but as usual the cover is a great one and it has been taken from a 1930s railway poster (LNER) advertising Ullswater English Lakeland, by the artist John Littlejohns.

Ullswater

Seven Dead by J. Jefferson Farjeon

seven dead

Seven Dead by J. Jefferson Farjeon was first published in 1939 but I read a British Library Crime Classics reprint with a rather attractive cover of a harbour and yachts.

The book begins with Ted Lyte a nervous first time burglar breaking into a remote house by the coast. It seems that the house is uninhabited so he decides to take a look around, hoping to find easily portable silver.

One of the rooms is locked, presumably it has something worth stealing inside it, but when he gains entrance he gets the shock of his life. In a panic Ted rushes out of the house but realises that someone is chasing after him. Shedding silver spoons as he goes Ted runs straight into a policeman and ends up being taken to the local police station, he’s a jibbering wreck.

Thomas Hazeldean was the pursuer and he had just come off his yacht, but it’s not long before he’s on it again and sailing for Boulogne where he hopes to get to the bottom of the mystery.

I had some problems with this one because although it’s not long at all before the crime takes place the whole thing seemed a bit too disjointed to me and unlikely. Farjeon tried to introduce witty dialogue between the police but it really didn’t work. It’s a bit of a locked room mystery, a bit missing person, a bit of vengeance, a bit of romance. In fact it’s just a bit too bitty for my liking. I could just be nit-picking though.