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.
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
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.
This collection of short stories features the writers below, some of whom I’ve never even heard of before.
Arthur Conan Doyle
Dorothy L. Sayers
Ethel Lina White
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 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 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 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.
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.
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 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 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.