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.

Dying Fall by Elly Griffiths

Dying Fall cover

Dying Fall by Elly Griffiths was published in 2013 and it’s the fifth book in her series featuring Ruth Galloway, the forensic archaeologist who is usually based in Norfolk. Ruth ends up travelling on a motorway following the signs that say THE NORTH, she’s aiming for Lancashire as in this one her old friend Dan from university has died in a house fire. Was it an accident or deliberate?

It transpires that Dan was a worried man, he thought he had dug up the discovery of a lifetime, but a local group of right-wing nutters isn’t going to be happy with his findings. Are they involved in his death and exactly who is in this secret society?

The setting is mainly Blackpool and Fleetwood, so I was thankful that we had visited there in the autumn, so I knew exactly where I was so to speak.

Meanwhile DCI Harry Nelson has been persuaded by his wife to have a holiday, she’s hoping for somewhere exotic but he’ll only consider visiting Blackpool which is where he grew up and his mother still lives. When his old colleague calls him in to help with the investigation it’s inevitable that his path is going to cross with Ruth’s – again.

I think I enjoyed this one more than the previous one in the series, so I plan to get on with the next book soon as I’ve fallen behind with this series, it’s time to catch up.

Ninth Life by Elizabeth Ferrars

Ninth Life cover

Ninth Life by the Scottish author Elizabeth Ferrars – or E.X. Ferrars as she seems to have been known in the US – was first published in 1965.

I enjoyed this one which was more of a mystery than murder mystery – for 85%-ish of it anyway.

Caroline lives in London on her own and works in an office, she’s always beeen independent but when she needs to recuperate after having her appendix removed she agrees to go to Fenella her much younger married sister’s house until she’s well enough to look after herself again.

They have a rather fraught relationship as Fenella feels that her older sister is too domineering and she has kept Harry her husband away from Caroline so this is the first time the two will be meeting.

Harry isn’t at all Fenella’s usual sort, he’s older than she is, not particularly good looking and has given up journalism, supposedly to concentrate on writing a book. Meanwhile he and Fenella have opened their lovely old home as a guest house.

But Fenella knows that Harry has more money than he should have. Where is the extra money coming from?

The blurb says: The brooding atmosphere explodes into violence and death. Miss Ferrars achieves a high suspense, not by fireworks or blood-baths, but by the precise observation of character and mood, and by her skill in surprising the reader at the climax.

I agree.

Suicide Excepted by Cyril Hare

Suicide Excepted cover

Suicide Excepted by Cyril Hare was first published in 1939 and it’s the first book by Cyril Hare that I’ve read. His real name was Alfred Gordon Clark and for his day job he was a judge, that must have given him plenty of ideas for his writing.

Inspector Mallett of the C.I.D. has just had a very disappointing lunch in the roadside hotel where he is having a short break. A brief chat of mutual commiseration with another guest on the poor food on offer leads to Mallett becoming a witness in a subsequent inquest.

Was it murder, an accident or suicide? A lot rests on the outcome and this one kept me guessing so I’ll definitely read more by this author.

Coffin Road by Peter May

Coffin Road cover

Coffin Road was published in 2016 and it’s the first book by Peter May that I’ve read.

It begins with a man being washed up on a beach, he has been injured, is bleeding and disorientated, close to hypothermia – and he has no idea who or where he is. He realises that he must live nearby though as a woman he meets recognises him, she calls him Mr Maclean and helps him to his nearby cottage where his dog is ecstatic to see him, he knows the dog’s name – Bran, but nothing else. He feels he has to hide his predicament hoping that his memory will come back to him, but it doesn’t.

He has no idea why he has been living on the Isle of Harris, he’s certainly not writing a book as people think, and he suspects that his name isn’t even Neal Maclean, but why would he tell people it is? He turns detective and ends up in Edinburgh, thinking he has tracked down his family, but it’s a dead end. I don’t want to say too much more about this one for fear of ruining it for any possible readers.

This book didn’t grab me quickly as some do, it’s hard to like a character when you know very little about them and what you do know doesn’t seem particularly endearing, but I did end up really enjoying Coffin Road and I’ll definitely be reading more by Peter May. I think I have quite a lot to catch up with.

The Cutting Room by Louise Welsh

The Cutting Room cover

The Cutting Room is the first book that I’ve read by the Scottish author Louise Welsh, it was published in 2002 and was nominated for several awards, including the Orange Prize.

I mention that she’s a Scottish author, but it seems she was born in England, she must have moved to Scotland at a fairly young age I think because this book which is set in Glasgow is pure dead Glaswegian as far as the dialogue goes anyway. But it would be easily understood by anyone I think. It’s quite detailed on the dodgy background of auction houses, but I’m sure that wouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.

The blurb on the front says: ‘A stunning work of fiction’ Sunday Times – well I enjoyed it anyway although I think for more prudish readers some passages might be a much to take.

The story revolves around a Glasgow auction house where Rilke is an auctioneer, the business isn’t going very well so when they get a call to clear an entire housefull of antiques – if they can do it all within a week, they jump at the chance. The house owner has died and as he has no children it has fallen to his elderly sister to arrange everything.

She tells Rilke that her brother’s private office is in the attic, not easily accessible, and she wants Rilke to destroy whatever he finds in there. He finds some very disturbing books and photographs there and is loath to destroy them as he knows they are worth a lot of money, but it’s the photographs that haunt him and he starts inquiries of his own.

Of course as I knew all the locations the book had that extra dimension for me, being able to picture all the places mentioned and Welsh managed to make Rilke a likeable character despite his many weaknesses, including his penchant for having gay sex with random pick ups from time to time. It’s decidedly sleazy in a few places. It takes all sorts I suppose!

I’ll definitely be reading more books by Louise Welsh.

Antidote to Venom by Freeman Wills Crofts

Antidote to Venom cover

Antidote to Venom by Freeman Wills Crofts was first published in 1938 but as you can see my copy is a British Library Classics one.

I quite enjoyed this one, but I felt that it dragged quite a bit in the middle, I seem to remember that I’ve felt the same about a few of his books.

George Surridge is the director of a zoo, it’s his dream job, and it comes with a comfortable house so he should be sitting pretty. Unfortunately he is married to a woman who is a social climber who had been spoiled by her parents and doesn’t seem to understand that George doesn’t have an endless supply of money for her to spend. The result is that George is always strapped for cash and is forever worried about it.

Clarissa’s attitude takes a toll on the marriage and when George meets a more sympathetic female he falls for her hard. This of course means that he gets into even deeper debt as he hires a flashy car to take her out and about – far away from his home. He dreams of getting free of his wife and so begins a convoluted murderous plan.

Unusually the author manages to make all of the main characters fairly likeable, so it’s quite a sad tale of broken lives due to bad decisions.

The covers of these British Library Crime Classics are usually quite stylish but I can’t say that I’m all that keen on this one.

The Plot Against Roger Rider by Julian Symons

The Plot Against Roger Rider cover

The Plot Against Roger Rider by Julian Symons was first published in 1973. It’s just the third book that I’ve read by Julian Symons and one of them was non-fiction, about other crime writers of course.

I must admit that it’s a few months since I read this book, I’m way behind with book reviews, if that is what they can be called. This one kept me guessing right to the end, what more can you want from crime fiction?

Roger Rider and Geoffrey Paradine have been friends since their schooldays, not that it was an equal friendship, Geoff was often bullied but Roger protected him when possible. As they grew up Roger became a successful businessman and Geoff was one of his employees, possibly Geoff would have found it difficult to find a job anywhere else.

That sort of relationship is bound to be rather unhealthy though and when Roger’s wife throws herself at Geoff he is happy to oblige her. It would seem that the wife is just playing games with other people’s lives. Geoff is invited to join the Riders at their holiday home in Spain it isn’t long before Roger disappears without a trace.

As H.R.F. Keating says on the back blurb: Symons piles twist on turn, keeping graspingly just within the limits of plausibility.

Furnished for Murder by Elizabeth Ferrars

Elisabeth Ferrars - Furnished for Murder

Furnished for Murder (Murder Room) by Scottish author Elizabeth Ferrars was first published in 1957.

Meg Jeacock and her husband are finding things difficult financially so they decide to section off part of their house and sublet it. It’s not something they’re very keen on doing but needs must. Meg is surprised when she answers her door to a man who is very determined to rent the place, he has been out of the country and has no references but he is happy to pay three months rent immediately and Meg can’t resist, although she knows her husband won’t be too happy about it.

In fact her husband is convinced that their tenant is a dodgy character and it isn’t long before terrible things begin to happen in the neighbourhood.

I’ve enjoyed all of the books by Ferrars that I’ve read so far and this one was really good. I think she should be better known than she is. I love the very 1950s cover on my old Collins Fontana paperback version of it which as you can see cost all of 2/6 but that was probably quite expensive back in the day. If you ever stumble across any Elizabeth Ferrars books you should give her a go. For some odd reason she was marketed as E.X. Ferrars in the US.

This one counts towards the Read Scotland 2016 Challenge.

The Whitstable Pearl Mystery and Murder-on-Sea by Julie Wassmer

 The Whitstable Pearl Mystery cover

The Whitstable Pearl Mystery by Julie Wassmer was a completely random choice from the library. I had never heard of the author before, but it turns out she is a ‘Goodreads’ author – whatever that means.

The setting is Whitstable in Kent, the town is famous for its seafood and Pearl has her own seafood resaturant which is very popular but with her son going off to university she’s finding her life to be a bit empty and decides to try her hand at setting up a detective agency too. She had been a policewoman briefly in her youth, until her unplanned pregnancy kyboshed that career.

This is an enjoyable read with some good characters but the actual mystery part of it isn’t too exciting. I can imagine though that if you know the Whitstable area then you will enjoy the local aspect of it, it seems like an authentic seaside setting. I suppose it comes under the heading of comfort read and we all need them from time to time.

This is Julie Wassmer’s first book but she has been a writer for Eastenders and various other TV programmes in the past. Surprisingly her writing is a bit cliched from time to time, such as using the phrase sun-kissed throat, something that I imagine if I were a writer I would want to avoid. But heigh-ho nothing’s perfect and I went right on to read Murder-on-Sea the second book in this series.

The author lives in Whitstable and is apparently well known for her environmental campaigning.

Murder-on-Sea

 Murder-on-Sea cover

Murder-on-Sea by Julie Wassmer is the second book in the Whitstable Pearl Mystery series.

It’s the height of the Christmas season and Pearl is run off her feet at her seafood restaurant, but when nasty anonymous Christmas cards start popping up all over town she decides she has to investigate.

DCI Mike McGuire from Canterbury police ends up taking over the case and things escalate with murders following the cards.

I didn’t enjoy this one quite as much as The Whitstable Pearl Mystery. It didn’t have such a good sense of place and I admit that the entrance of a character called Rev Pru was never going to go down well with me. Do ministers/vicars actually call themselves Rev? and if they do there ought to be a law against it. I know, it’s just one of my many strange personal dislikes.

These books are good light reads that you don’t have to concentrate on to any great extent.