The Case of the Missing Bronte by Robert Barnard

The Case of the Missing Bronte by Robert Barnard was first published in 1983.

Suoerintendent Perry Trethowan of Scotland Yard is driving back to London with his wife Jan after visiting his family in Northumberland, but the car breaks down in the Yorkshire Dales and they’re forced to spend the night in a small village.

While having a drink in the local pub they’re joined by a local. Miss Edith Wing is a retired schoolteacher and she tells them she has just inherited a lot of old documents from her cousin. One of them looks like it might be a Bronte manuscript, it looks very similar to their juvenilia so is written in tiny print and is almost illegible. She wonders if they know anything about such things. Jan confesses that she loves looking at old documents.

In no time they’re all involved in dangerous situations, it’s probably not sensible to talk about such a possibly lucrative possession in the local pub!

I liked this one although it is definitely on the bizarre side, but that’s not a problem for me. While reading it it seemed like a vintage crime publication to me, it might have been something to do with the book cover which is reminiscent of the British Library covers, but I don’t regard 1983 as vintage, maybe I should as it’s almost forty years ago now.

Brighton Belle and London Calling by Sara Sheridan

Brighton Belle cover

Brighton Belle by the Scottish author Sara Sheridan was published in 2012 and it’s the first in a series. The setting is Brighton in 1951.

Mirabelle Bevan had been in a hush hush job during World War 2 but she was desk bound so was never really in the thick of it. She’s now based in Brighton where she’s working with Ben McGuigan helping him to run his debt recovery agency, but Ben is ill with a bad cold so Mirabelle is left to cope on her own. When a client arrives asking for help to recover £400 from a woman he had loaned it to it leads to murder and Mirabelle finds herself using the skills that she had developed during the war. I really liked this one so although I wasn’t looking for another series to keep up with – I intend to do just that.

So next in the series is London Calling. I decided to request these books from the library quickly as they have a horrible habit of getting rid of books, particularly the earlier ones in a series – which is just madness.

The setting is mainly London in 1952 where a debutante has gone missing, last seen in a jazz club. It’s believed that Rose Bellamy Gore left the club with Lindon Claremont who is a young black saxophonist, so when she disappears it’s assumed that he has something to do with it. Lindon gets the train from London to Brighton to get help from his old family friend Vesta who has teamed up with Mirabelle in the debt recovery agency.

Mirabelle persuades Lindon to go back to London and hand himself in to the police, to help with the enquiries, which would be the sensible course of action – but maybe not for a black suspect.

There’s some use of the ‘n’ word in this one, and various other racist elements which I’m sure are very true to the atmosphere of the time, however they are always challenged by Mirabelle, I’m not sure how realistic that would have been, back in the day. Anyway, this was another enjoyable mystery. I really like the characters of Mirabelle and Vesta and the writing so I’ll continue with the series.

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett

 Ballet Shoes cover

The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett was first published in 1929. I loved this one although I must admit that I love the film even more, it’s the Humphrey Bogart aspect of course, he’s brilliant as Sam Spade. I suspect that everyone knows the tale.

Miss Wonderly (tall and pliantly slender without angularity anywhere) visits the office that Sam Spade shares with his partner Miles Archer. She wants Spade to track down Floyd Thursby, the man who has run off with her younger sister. Archer gets the job of tailing Thursby. It doesn’t end well for either of them.

I love Hammett’s writing style. He puts so much detail in, every movement is mapped. His books must have been a dream to adapt to film. You can see the original film trailer below.

Two from Ian Rankin – Rebus

I’m really behind with my book thoughts and as I’ve read two books in Ian Rankin’s Rebus series recently I thought I’d just give them a quick mention.

 Set in Darkness cover

Set in Darkness was first published in 2000 and it’s the 11th book featuring DI John Rebus. The setting is of course Edinburgh where the very historic Queensberry House is undergoing refurbishment as part of the devolved Scottish Parliament administrative offices. A partially mummified body is found behind a boarded up fireplace. It looks like it has been there since the last work which was undertaken in that area, some 20 odd years ago.

Then there’s what appears to be the suicide of a homeless man, but it turns out that he had hundreds of thousands of pounds. Why was he living on the streets and did he really kill himself? It’s all go when a prospective MSP’s body is found. Somehow they’re all linked. This was a good read and as ever I enjoyed the Edinburgh setting.

 Resurrection Men cover

Resurrection Men was first published in 2021. This one ranges around Scotland from Edinburgh to Stirlingshire, Perthshire, Fife and Dundee.

Rebus has had a bit of a meltdown and thrown a cup of tea at his boss Gill Templar. The result of that is that he has been sent to Tulliallan, the Scottish police training college for a bit of a refresher course and to have some sessions with a psychologist. Rebus isn’t the only one who has been sent back to school. There’s a group of senior officers who are all there for similar reasons, but it transpires that Rebus has been asked to befriend the others as they’re suspected of being ‘right bad yins’ and Rebus needs to get the evidence. Rebus isn’t sure if he’s being set up by his superiors or if it’s for real, either way it’s a dangerous situation for him. The cold case that they’ve been given to re-open as part of their team building happens to be one in which Rebus was involved, and he’s not happy about that at all.

Meanwhile Siobhan, Rebus’ sidekick is investigating the murder of a wealthy Edinburgh art dealer who had a link with one of the prostitutes in a massage parlour, which in turn might have links with Ger Cafferty, the Mr Big of the Edinburgh dark side.

There’s a lot more to it but, you get the idea I’m sure.

I love that I know all the locations of these books so I’m not sure how much that influences my enjoyment, mind you with the bad guys in this one coming from the west of Scotland I did slightly roll my eyes!

Murder at Standing Stone Manor by Eric Brown

Murder at Standing Stone Manor cover

Murder at Standing Stone Manor by Eric Brown is the eighth book in his Langham and Dupre mystery series. Donald and Maria have just moved from London into Yew Tree Cottage where they have a distant view of Standing Stone Manor from across their snow-covered garden. The villagers of Ingoldby in Suffolk are mainly very welcoming, but it seems that Professor Robertshaw who owns the manor can be a bit of a thorny character. When Donald is invited to the manor he’s surprised that the professor is very affable, but he wants help from Donald to get to the bottom of something strange.

The professor is an archaologist and he’s been digging on land that apparently doesn’t belong to him and obviously that’s causing tension, particularly from the man who believes the land is his. But Robertshaw’s own household is not a comfortable place to be. His wife Xandra is seriously ill and is being nursed by her niece Nancy who would otherwise be homeless. Xandra’s son Randall is arrogant and bullying towards Nancy, as is the professor, and they are both especially obnoxious to Nancy’s friend, an ex-RAF man who is living rough in an old caravan.

When the professor is found dead there are quite a few people in the neighbourhood who would have been glad to see the back of him and of course Donald and Maria sort it all out.

The book is set in the 1950s and Brown does manage to evoke that era well. I enjoyed the mystery which I suppose comes under the category of cosy, and there are some really likeable characters, not just Donald and Maria. I do wish that we could have more of Charles who is Donald’s agent and appeared more in the earlier books, I really liked him. I don’t think it’s necessary to read the others in this series although if you can get a hold of them then you should definitely give them a go.

Thank you to Canongate Books/Severn House and NetGalley who sent me a digital copy of this book for review.

Appleby’s Answer by Michael Innes – 20 Books of Summer 2021

Appleby's Answer cover

Appleby’s Answer by the Scottish author Michael Innes was published by Gollancz in 1973 so I suppose that means it’s vintage crime now although that seems a bit strange to me, however in some ways the book seems even older than that. It begins with Miss Pringle sharing a railway compartment with a strange man. Miss Pringle is a crime writer with a penchant for ecclesiastical settings and she’s travelling to London to attend a dinner with a group of fellow crime writers.

Captain Bulkington is the other traveller and strangely he’s reading a copy of one of her books, when he recognises her from the photo on the dust jacket the two get into conversation. Bulkington has a private school, a crammer which coaches young men to pass the entrance exam for top drawer universities. It’s a business that he has taken up since retiring from the army, but he has a proposition for Miss Pringle. He wants to collaborate with her in writing a book and invites her to stay at his establishment, but Miss Pringle has her suspicions about him and just agrees to correspond with him instead.

However she decides to travel to Bulkington’s village to do a bit of detective work and discovers that there are only two students enrolled in the crammer, and neither of them seem to be university material. It seems that Bulkington has some sort of hold over them.

Appleby and his wife have travelled to the same Wiltshire village to visit friends and so become embroiled in the affair.

This isn’t a murder mystery but is an entertaining read with quite a lot of humour thrown in. My copy of the book is an old Gollancz one and I couldn’t help thinking of Diana Athill who would have been working as an editor there when this one was published, I don’t think she mentions Michael Innes in any of her books though. This was one of my 20 Books of Summer.

The Postscript Murders by Elly Griffiths

 The Postscript Murders cover

The Postscript Murders by Elly Griffiths was published in 2020 and it’s the second book in her DS Harbinder Kaur series. Normally I would try to read books in a series in order, but it wasn’t a problem just diving in as I did.

Natalka is a care worker with 90 year old Peggy Smith as one of her ‘clients’. When Natalka discovers Peggy dead in her chair, facing her bay window she feels that something is not quite right. Peggy had spoken of being watched, but that could just have been the beginning of age related paranoia or dementia. Then a business card is found near Peggy, on it she’s described as a ‘murder consultant’. It seems that Peggy had led a secret life as an expert on unusual ways of murdering people. Her skills were in demand by many crime writers who needed her input when they needed ways of their characters being murdered.

Peggy’s son is in an unseemly hurry to pack up her flat and get it on the market, there are a lot of books, but when Natalka and her friend Benedict (coffee shack owner and ex monk) visit the flat they end up being threatened by a masked gunman who left swiftly after grabbing a book.

DS Harbinder Kaur is on the case which begins with Peggy’s death in Shoreham and leads to Aberdeen in north east Scotland. This was a really enjoyable read with unusual and likeable characters and there’s quite a bit of humour in there too. I feel I should read the first book in this series now, The Stranger Diaries.

Another Little Christmas Murder by Lorna Nicholl Morgan

Another Little Christmas Murder by Lorna Nicholl Morgan was first published in 1947 and then it was titled Another Little Murder. It’s a bit cheeky of the new publisher littlebrown to stick in the word ‘Christmas’ as the book has nothing to do with the Christmas season although it is set in a very snowy Swaledale, Yorkshire.

Dilys Hughes is an optimistic young woman, she would have to be given that she drives around in a very unreliable car. She’s a commercial traveller, dealing in ointments and rubbing oils to cure rheumatics and such. She also helps to develop the medicines.

On her journey through Yorkshire the wintry weather gets worse and worse and she ends up stuck in snow. Settling down to wait for a lift from a passing motorist, it isn’t long before one turns up. Inigo Brown is driving to visit his father after receiving a letter from him. His father had recently married Theresa, a much younger woman, and Inigo has yet to meet her.

Inigo invites Dilys to stay at his father’s large remote house, as her car is well and truly stuck in the snow. Almost as soon as they get there various other refugees from the weather turn up needing food and shelter, and Theresa seems happy to cater for them all, but strange things begin to happen and some of the other guests are very odd.

This was enjoyable although at times I had trouble keeping track of all the male characters as they arrived, that was probably my fault though.

I hadn’t heard of Lorna Nicholl Morgan before. Apparently she only wrote four books. She was born in England in 1913 but moved to America in 1954. All four of her books were published in the 1940s and she doesn’t seem to have published any more after emigrating, unless she used another name.

The Black Book by Ian Rankin

 The Black Book cover

The Black Book by the Scottish author Ian Rankin is the fifth book in his Inspector John Rebus series. The setting is mainly Edinburgh but moves across the Firth of Forth to Fife from time to time as so often happens in this series. Rebus and Rankin both hail from Fife originally. It was first published in 1993 and it’s the first in the Rebus series which features his side-kick Detective Constable Siobhan Clarke. She’s a great character and really much smarter than Rebus, but he has the experience and local knowledge.

Rebus has moved in with Patience his girlfriend, she’s a doctor and is beginning to be impatient of his long working hours and broken promises. The writing seems to be on the wall for that relationship. To complicate matters Rebus’ younger brother Michael turns up – straight from jail.

Crime wise there’s an awful lot going on in this book, but Rebus is mainly focusing on a cold case. Five years earlier the Central Hotel in Edinburgh had burned down and a charred body was found in the ruins. They never did find out the identity of the body, but the hotel had been a bit of a den of iniquity, headquarters for all sorts of low life, including the biggest and most evil gangster in Edinburgh.

There’s violence but also plenty of humour and smart patter, so this was a really entertaining read. As the book is now 27 years old I suppose this can be seen as vintage crime now, it certainly often feels like that.

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.