Someone from the Past by Margot Bennett

Someone from the Past by Margot Bennett was first published in 1958 but it was reprinted by  British Library in 2023. This book won the Crime Writers’ Association’s Award for the best crime novel of 1958, but it was the last crime novel that the Scottish author Margot Bennett wrote. The setting is mainly London.

Nancy had been enjoying a night out with Donald, it seems to be a special date, they’ve been on the champagne and all seems well, but they are interrupted by Sarah, a one time work colleague of Nancy’s, but Sarah had been somewhat closer to Donald in the past, he’s not enamoured with her at all now.

But Nancy agrees to help Sarah who has been receiving anonymous letters, threatening her death, the threat seems to come from a man in her past – but there have been so many of them. Before Nancy can do anything to help, Sarah is found dead and a bad decision by Nancy means that she is a suspect. It’s all a bit of a nightmare.

The blurb says: As the real killer uses the situation to their advantage, Bennett crafts a nuanced story through flashbacks to Sarah’s life and loves.

This is a good read although my favourite era for crime novels is the 1930s and 40s, don’t ask me why, they just seem more atmospheric.

 

 

 

 

 

Green for Danger by Christianna Brand

Green for Danger by Christianna Brand was first published in 1944 but it has been reprinted by British Library in their Crime Classics series.

The setting is Kent in 1942/43, at a new military hospital called Heron’s Park. Esther is a young woman who had joined the hospital as a V.A.D. against her widowed mother’s wishes as she was terrified of the bombing and didn’t want to be left on her own. Esther feels she has to do her bit though.

It’s a busy time for the hospital as lots of  bombs have been dropped in the locality. Joseph Higgins is a postman, and he’s also part of a rescue squad, helping to dig people and bodies out of bombed buildings. But he ends up in hospital himself after being caught up in a bombing raid. He’s very worried about having to have an operation and Esther reassures him, but something goes wrong when he’s on the operating table and he doesn’t survive it. When there’s another unexpected incident during an operation it’s obvious that there’s something nefarious going on.

Inspector Cockrill is called in to investigate.and it transpires that there’s a small number of people who would have had the opportunity to commit murder.

I must admit that I didn’t guess who the culprit was, which is always a plus, but I felt that I should have known. I didn’t really like many of the characters though which is always a problem for me.

Somebody at the Door by Raymond Postgate

Somebody at the Door by Raymond Postgate was first published in 1943 but British Library has reprinted it in 2017 in their Crime Classics series. He also founded The Good Food Guide.

The setting is the south of England, Winter 1942.

Councillor Grayling gets on the train at Euston, it’s a really busy train and his carriage is full, some of the people he knows, but doesn’t particularly like. He has £120 in his briefcase and he’s a bit worried about carrying so much money. When he gets off the train he walks the short distance from the station to his home, through the snow covered streets, but when he reaches his home he falls through the door as his wife answers it, in no time he’s dead. His briefcase is missing.

Inspector Holly investigates, looking into the backgrounds of all Grayling’s fellow passengers, apart from two young workmen who can’t be traced. It seems a lot of them have good reasons for not liking Grayling.

For this reason the story seems to go off at strange tangents, but it all makes sense eventually and I didn’t guess what was going on.

Raymond Postgate was the father of Oliver Postgate, who created Bagpuss, The Clangers, Noggin the Nog, and Ivor the Engine. Not many people remember Noggin the Nog, it was before my time on children’s TV but it’s a favourite with Jack. Peter Firmin was also involved in making that one. I was more of a Bagpuss fan. Sorry, that’s me going off at a tangent now.

 

 

The Christmas Egg by Mary Kelly

The Christmas Egg by Mary Kelly was first published in 1958 but it was reprinted by British Library in 2019.

The setting is London and it begins just a few days before Christmas. Chief Inspector Nightingale and Sergeant Beddoes have been called to a poverty stricken flat in Islington. An elderly lady has died, she’s emaciated looking, and her ‘flat’ is really just one room. She didn’t even have  a proper bed to die in. It’s all very dirfferent from the life she was born into becaue she was a White Russian before the revolution and her name was Princess Olga Karukhin. She managed to escape from Russia with her son and a box full of goodies, jewels, porcelain, ikons, some Faberge, and she had hoarded them for years. But now she has been murdered and her box is empty.  It transpires that she had recently had her treasures appraised by a well-known firm of jewellers, it’s all a bit suspicious.

Olga’s grandson is a drunk. Ivan is well-known in the local pubs and to the police. He’s also apt to boast to everyone that he’s really a Russian prince and that he’s looking forward to getting his inheritance.

There’s a lot of action in this book and some likeable characters, it added up to an enjoyable read. There is of course an interesting Introduction by Martin Edwards.

 

 

Scarweather by Anthony Rolls – 20 Books of Summer 2022

Scarweather by Anthony Rolls (Colwyn Edward Vulliamy) was first published in 1934 but it has been reprinted by British Library. This is the book which I took with me on holiday to Orkney recently, not knowing anything about it so it felt a wee bit spooky when it turned out that archaeology and an ancient burial mound featured in the plot, as I was visiting neolithic burial sites in Orkney. It’s amazing how often I inadvertently take books with me on holiday that relate to my destination in some way.

Unusually the story takes place over 15 years or so, beginning just before the First World War. John Farringdale accompanied by his cousin Eric Foster goes to visit Tolgen Reisby, a famous archaeologist at his remote home Scarweather in the north of England. Reisby’s wife is years younger than him and they seem rather mismatched. Eric is obviously attracted to her, she’s described as having ‘a magnificent figure and stately carriage’ and that description is part of the problem for me with this book. I just didn’t enjoy the author’s writing style which seemed very stilted to me, perhaps it was supposed to be. I also found the whole thing to be very predictable. I don’t think I will bother reading any others by this author.

Luckily my holiday in Orkney was much mmore enjoyable!

The Widow of Bath by Margot Bennett

The Widow of Bath by the Scottish author Margot Bennett was first published in 1952.

The book begins with Hugh Everton having a meal in a hotel in Margate, he works for a travel agency and part of his job consists of going around hotels and trying them out, he’s very jaded by the whole thing with the same meals appearing at the different hotels.

When a group of people walk into the bar Everton realises that one of the women is Lucy, an old flame of his, and she’s with her new husband, Gregory Bath who is a retired judge. Everton agrees to go back to the judge’s house for drinks along with Lucy’s aunt and some others.

When murder ensues Everton finds himself in a difficult position as he has had a bit of a brush with the law in the past.

For me this was mainly a bedtime read, and that might have been the problem with it as I found it to be too convoluted for a tired brain, otherwise I wasn’t really enamoured with any of the characters and that’s always disappointing. However the writing is good and I appreciated the humour.

The cover design has been taken from a British Rail travel poster advertising Plymouth on the south coast of England. I had a look at modern photographs of the area on the internet and was very happy to see that all that art deco architecture has survived, which is quite surprising considering how comprehensively Plymouth was bombed during World War 2.

Thank you to British Library who sent me a copy of this book for review.

Plymouth

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?