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.

Death of an Airman by Christopher St John Sprigg

Death of an Airman cover

Death of an Airman by Christopher St John Sprigg was first published in 1934 but I read the British Library Crime Classics reprint. In fact due to circumstances beyond my control I read this book from cover to cover all in one sitting, it took me about five hours and it made my wait bearable, in fact I really enjoyed this one.

Edwin Marriott is an Australian bishop who is on holiday in England. As his diocese in Australia is massive he has decided that he’ll have to learn to fly so that he can visit his flock. He has chosen take lessons at Baston Aero Club which has quite a mixture of flying instructors including a World War 1 flying ace.

It’s evident from early on that there are tensions at the flying school and it’s not long before there’s a death. Is it just an accident, murder or suicide? The bishop helps to get to the bottom of it all aided by Inspector Bray of Scotland Yard.

I was kept guessing all along and had no idea what was going on, the plot is really convoluted and it’s just such a shame that the author had such a short career as his life was cut short when he was killed fighting in the Spanish Civil War in 1937. His real name was Christopher Caudwell.

A Scream in Soho by John G. Brandon

A Scream in Soho cover

A Scream in Soho by John G. Brandon was first published in 1940 but my copy is a British Library Crime Classics reprint. It’s the first book that I’ve read by this author.

I got the impression that this book was written with the author’s tongue very much in his cheek. At times it’s just a bit daft and unlikely, but still entertaining. Detective Inspector McCarthy is quite a departure from the norm as he’s a Soho lad and had a very rough upbringing, that stands him in good stead though as he knows the types of thugs that live in the area and the sorts of things that they get up to.

It’s London’s Soho in wartime, so it’s dark and grim and there are a lot of Italian gangsters about and supposed Austrian refugees aren’t at all what they seem. There’s a murder early on – plenty of evidence but no body!

That exclamation mark of mine (I’m quite partial to them at times) is used by me as usual in a cheery and light-hearted fashion. I had to laugh when I read a Goodreads ‘review’ of this book by someone who was outraged by it, mainly because one of the chapter titles has an exclamation mark and the book is apparently homophobic, transgenderist, ableist (what is that? Prejudice against disabilities?) and a whole lot of other ‘ists’ and ‘ics’. Yet again I’m left wondering why people bother to read older books which aren’t likely to be as politically correct as most books are today. I suspect they’re looking for something to be outraged about!

John G. Brandon might not be one of the big hitters of crime fiction, but he did have a good sense of humour, and that led to this being an entertaining read.

Crimson Snow edited by Martin Edwards

Crimson Snow cover

Crimson Snow winter mysteries is a collection of vintage crime short stories edited by Martin Edwards. Reading this book gave me an opportunity to read a lot of vintage crime authors that I hadn’t read before.

The contributors are: Fergus Hume, Edgar Wallace, Margery Allingham, S.C. Roberts, Victor Gunn, Christopher Bush, Ianthe Jerrold, Macdonald Hastings, Julian Symons, Michael Gilbert and Josephine Bell.

Most of the stories are fairly short but the one by Victor Gunn is about seventy pages long so it’s really a novella and I don’t know if it’s because that one is longer – but I think it’s my favourite story. I’ll definitely be looking for more books by Victor Gunn anyway. I’ve seen a lot of his books on my travels but had no idea what they would be like and didn’t give them a go. No doubt now I won’t see any of his books in shops for yonks. That’s what happened to me with Dornford Yates, he was all over the place until Valerie said some of his books were good – and now they’ve disappeared after me being just about haunted by them previously.

I enjoyed this collection of short stories which are all set around winter/Christmas celebrations although the stories that I liked least were the ones by authors that I’ve read most. Margery Allingham and Macdonald Hastings disappointed me, maybe I just expected too much of them.

Published by British Library Crime Classics of course and the cover is taken from a vintage St Moritz travel poster. There’s a wee biography of each writer on the page before their story begins, which was interesting but I would have liked it if they had also added the date the story was originally published and which magazine it first appeared in. That’s me nit-picking though. This was perfect Christmas bedtime reading, why is murder and Christmas such a good combination?!

The Sussex Downs Murder by John Bude

The Sussex Downs Murder

The Sussex Downs Murder by John Bude was first published in 1936 but I read a British Library Crimes Classic reprint. I love its cover which was taken from a Southern Railway poster for Seaford. Another plus for me is – there’s a map!

The setting is Chalklands Farm, on the Sussex Downs. Two brothers live there, William and John Rother, the farm has been in the family for three generations and William’s wife also lives there. When John’s car is found abandoned down a remote lane a few miles from the farm it’s obvious from the start that something has happened. A door is open and on close investigation there’s blood inside the car and on the inside of a cap. It doesn’t look like an accident – so what has happened to John and where is he now?

Superintendent Meredith is called in to lead the investigation and he uncovers lots of clues which point to various culprits throughout the book. It’s very detail heavy, something that I associate with male writers of crime fiction and by the end of this one my head was fairly spinning! In fact I lost concentration for a minute and had to go back and read a couple of pages over again.

Bude’s real name was Ernest Elmore and he was a theatre producer and director.

I enjoyed this one, I liked the relationship between Meredith and his son Tony, and I now know what a five valve super-het wireless was! My only slight disappointment was that it was set in a part of Sussex that I don’t know, it’s silly I know but I do like it when I can see the locations. This book has an introduction by Martin Edwards.

The Methods of Sergeant Cluff by Gil North

The Methods of Sergeant Cluff cover

The Methods of Sergeant Cluff by Gil North was first published in 1961 but my copy is a British Library Crime Classics re-print. It has an introduction by Martin Edwards. This is the first book I’ve read by Gil North, I can’t say I’m wild about it, I think I’ll probably give it a three on Goodreads. It has occurred to me though that quite possibly the author wrote this book as part of the successful anti death penalty campaign that was going on in the early 1960s. It was a time when there had been several miscarriages of justice and the British juries became disinclined to bring in a guilty verdict for murder, in case they got it wrong.

The setting is a small town on the edge of the Yorkshire moors, it’s a wet night and a young woman’s body is found face down on a cobbled street. Jane Trundle had been an assistant in a chemist’s shop.

There’s only one CID man in the division, Sergeant Cluff, a typical rough no nonsense North of England man, independent and stubborn. He’s a bit of a loner and his colleagues seem to resent his previous successes.

The whole town seems to think that the culprit is a young man who has held a torch for the victim for ages, his horror of the whole situation just makes matters worse, but Cluff is determined to investigate properly.

The trouble with this one is that Cluff seems like such a stereotype detective, along the lines of Morse and many other such mavericks, but maybe he didn’t seem such a cliche in the early 1960s.

I love the front cover though, it has been taken from a British Rail Yorkshire Dales travel poster. I love that style.

The Cheltenham Square Murder by John Bude

 The Cheltenham Square Murder cover

The Cheltenham Square Murder by John Bude was first published in 1937 but as you can see I read a British Library Crime Classics reprint. It has an introduction by Martin Edwards.

This is the second book by John Bude which I’ve read and I did enjoy it although it is a bit long-winded with all the possibilities gone into in depth. I’ve previously read his Cornish Coast Murder and you can read what I thought of that one here.

Cheltenham has a number of squares that are really cul-de-sacs with the houses only being on three sides and in Regency Square the inhabitants of the ten houses that it comprises are at loggerheads over whether a tree should be cut down or not. They are a disparate group of people ranging from well-heeled to just managing to scrape along financially. When one of the neighbours ends up being killed as he sat by a window Superintendent Meredith is asked to investigate. Was it an accident or murder?

I’ve found these British Library Crime Classic reprints to be a bit hit and miss, for me this one was a hit, although I still think that 1930s male crime writers in general concentrated too much on the minutiae of a mystery at the expense of the characters.