The Christmas Card Crime and other stories

 The Christmas Card Crime cover

The Christmas Card Crime and other stories is edited by Martin Edwards and is a British Library Crime Classic.

This compilation of eleven Christmas/winter themed vintage crime short stories is as you would expect a bit of a mixed bunch, but that means that there will surely be something to suit everyone. Each short story is preceded by a short biography of the author, which I found interesting.

For me it was the story from which the title of the book came which was most successful. The Christmas Card Crime was written by Donald Stuart. Some of the stories are sooo short, and I can’t help thinking that the author used up a good idea which could have been worked up into something a lot longer and for me more inetresting. I suppose that just means that I’m not a big fan of short stories, well not very short ones anyway.

The other authors featuring in this anthology are:

Baroness Orczy
Selwyn Jepson
Ronald Knox
Carter Dickson
Francis Durbridge
Cyril Hare
E.C.R. Lorac
John Bude
John Bingham
Julian Symons

The book cover is taken from a vintage travel poster.

Mont-Revard poster

The Lost Gallows by John Dickson Carr

 The Lost Gallows cover

The Lost Gallows by John Dickson Carr has just been reprinted by the British Library but it was first published in 1931. In no way could this book be described as a cosy mystery, it’s the very opposite, so atmospheric and full of creepiness, verging on horror at times, but still a good read even if you lean towards comfy crime usually.

The setting is a very foggy autumnal London, beginning in the notorious Brimstone Club where M. Henri Bencolin and Sir John Landervorne are examining a miniature set of gallows. Sir John had been assistant commissioner of the metropopitan police and Bencolin is the head of the Paris police. The set of gallows had suddenly appeared on the desk of Mr El Moulk, another member of the club, and it has unnerved him more than just a wee bit. The rumour is that Jack Ketch, a famous London hangman of folklore is roaming around London with his gibbet, looking for people to hang.

There’s many a spooky incident, with a limousine apparently being driven by an obviously dead man. With Bencolin making frequent references to the Red Widow, in other words the guillotine, this is very far from the works of the likes of Agatha Christie who steers clear of anything as sordid as the death penalty. To be honest I’m happier with that style of writing. I’m going to be utterly sexist here and possibly entirely wrong but I think that John Dickson Carr’s style might be more popular with male readers. Having said that this is the seventh book by John Dickson Carr that I’ve read and I’ve liked them all, he’s just not a favourite. This is a good read though, especially if you lean towards horror.

I was sent a copy of this book by British Library for review, my thanks to them.

Murder By Matchlight by E.C.R. Lorac

 Murder By Matchlight   cover

Murder By Matchlight by E.C.R. Lorac was first published in 1945 but was reprinted by British Library in 2018.

It’s London 1945 and this story begins in a very dark Regent’s Park where 30 year old Bruce Mallaig is pleased to be, pre-war he wouldn’t have been able to visit the park after hours, but now there are no railings and locked gates to keep anyone out, the metal railings have been removed to be melted down to make aeroplanes (supposedly a morale/doing your bit thing but in reality they weren’t used for the war effort) but it seems that the park might be the venue for clandestine meetings. A sudden flare of light from a match shows Bruce that there are two men near him and in no time one of them has been murdered, knocked on the head. But Bruce hadn’t heard anything at all.

Chief Inspector MacDonald is heading the investigation and it turns out to be a difficult one as even the murder victim’s identity is a puzzle.

These British Library reprints can be a wee bit hit and miss but I really enjoyed this one with its very atmospheric wartime setting and unusual characters.

Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times

It’s time for some more Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times which is hosted by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness.

Crime Bookshelves

The first shelf is in a small bookcase which is situated at the top of the stairs, it’s a tight space and I was really happy when we managed to get a wee bookcase to fit in. This shelf is where most of my British Library Crime Classic books reside. I’ve discovered quite a few authors that I hadn’t experienced before through these books and I tend to read them as soon as I get them so these books have all been read. I like this series, they feature covers appropriate to the time they were originally published, often from British Rail posters advertising holiday destinations in the UK. I love those posters too and have quite a few wee repro ones framed and hanging on the staircase walls.

Vintage Crime Bookshelves

More vintage crime, I rarely come across any original Penguin crime paperbacks, but when I do manage to find them I almost always read them straight away, so these ones have all been read too. The books by Jean Potts and Holly Roth were bought when I hadn’t even heard of those authors but I really enjoyed the books. If you are a fan of Georgette Heyer’s Regency romances then you will almost certainly like her crime/mystery books. They feature the same witty dialogue that make her historical books such fun.

Book Trough

The last shelf isn’t a shelf at all, it’s a book trough, although at the last antiques fair I went to (remember those heady days when we had the luxury of doing things like that and we took it all completely for granted?!) anyway, I bought another book trough but was amused to see that the label on it described it as being a book troff. The one below is on the floor in the hall at the moment as I have nowhere else to put it. There’s some more vintage crime in it, it’s a mixture of books that are waiting to be read and some I have read already. The big thick book is called The Herries Chronicle and it’s by Hugh Walpole. I think this trilogy was wildly popular when they were first published in the 1930s but I’ve never known anyone who has read them. The books are set in the Lake District, which seems like a plus to me. This volume contains four books – Rogue Herries, Judith Paris, The Fortress and Vanessa. Have any of you read any of Walpole’s books?

Death of a Busybody by George Bellairs

 Death of a Busybody cover

Death of a Busybody by George Bellairs is a book that I’ve had for some time and I just realised last week that for some reason I hadn’t read it, I usually read these British Library Crime Classics as soon as I get them. George Bellairs was the nom de plume of Harold Blundell a bank manager in Heywood, Rochdale.

Miss Tither lives in the village of Hilary Magna and she sees it as her duty to keep all the villagers on the straight and narrow. It’s presumed that she spends her time creeping around in the dark, keeking in at windows, gathering information on her neighbours, with a view to haranging them about any perceived misdemeanours, almost always of the sexual kind. Don’t go courting in the woods when she’s around as she’ll be demanding that you and your ‘click’ get married, and handing you a religious tract! As you can imagine she’s a very unpopular woman, so when she ends up dead, obviously murdered, there’s no obvious culprit.

Enter Inspector Littlejohn of Scotland Yard. He has been a bit of a countryman in the past and he understands the ways of a small village and the sometimes oddly matched couples. This book is a lot more than a simple murder mystery and for me it’s always a big plus that the original victim is so nasty as to be almost deserving of their end.

The book was first published in 1942 but there’s not an awful lot of the wartime ambience in it. In fact there is a very popular tearoom mentioned, a place where ‘ladies lunch’ and the descriptions of all the (unlikely) wonderful goodies available to eat there did make me think of those lists of almost certainly unobtainable edibles that pop up in many books of those rationed days, such as the Enid Blyton midnight feasts and the C.S. Lewis Narnia books with groaning tables full of food, and of course not forgetting someone selling their soul for some Turkish Delight! I suppose if you couldn’t obtain the goodies to eat the next best thing is to dream up that you can have them, wishful thinking.

Anyway, I enjoyed this one, and the cover which comes from a British Railways 1930s advert for Suffolk.

Suffolk

SILENT NIGHTS Christmas Mysteries edited by Martin Edwards

 SILENT NIGHTS   cover

I’ve been away for four days, travelling around in the north-east of England and seeing the sights, before we need a passport to visit England, but I didn’t see as many sights as I would have liked to – so I’ll be back to see the Roman sites next time. I didn’t get an awful lot of reading done while I was down there but I did finish …

SILENT NIGHTS Christmas Mysteries edited by Martin Edwards was published in 2015 and it’s a compilation of fifteen short stories which all have a Christmas theme. There’s a short biography of each of the writers before their contribution to the book begins, they were interesting and informative. I had no idea that Marjorie Bowen also wrote under the names Joseph Shearing, George R. Preedy, John Winch and Robert Paye. She has two stories in this collection.

I found Cambric Tea that she wrote as Marjorie Bowen to be quite chilling. A wealthy man believes that he is being poisoned by his much younger wife, but all is not as it seems.

She wrote The Chinese Apple under the name of Joseph Shearing. A successful woman has to travel to London from her home in Italy after her sister dies leaving a young daughter who may need some attention from her reluctant aunt. Returning to the family home is an ordeal for the aunt who had been living in Florence. London is dingy and dirty and the house holds bad memories for her, things go from bad to worse as she realises that there has been a murder in the house across the road.

I had already read The Necklace of Pearls by Dorothy L. Sayers so didn’t bother re-reading it as I remember that I wasn’t too impressed by it, which is strange as I’m really quite a Sayers fan. I think in general though this is a really good collection. I don’t think much of the cover design though, which is surprisingly dull in my opinion, maybe there is a shortage of Christmas linked vintage designs. This cover was designed by Chris Andrews and isn’t one of his best book covers.

The Blue Carbunkle by Arthur Conan Doyle
Parlour Tricks by Ralph Plummer
A Happy Solution by Raymund Allen
The Flying Stars by G.K. Chesterton
Stuffing by Edgar Wallace
The Unknown Murderer by H.C. Bailey
The Absconding Treasurer by J.Jefferson Farjeon
The Necklace of Pearls by Dorothy L. Sayers
The Case is Altered by Margery Allingham
Waxworks by Ethel Lina White
Cambric Tea by Marjorie Bowen
The Chinese Apple by Joseph Shearing
A Problem in White by Nicholas Blake
The Name on the Window by Edmund Crispin
Beef for Christmas by Leo Bruce

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!