An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena

 An Unwanted Guest cover

An Unwanted Guest by Shari Lapena was published this year – 2018. It’s a murder mystery and I thought that I should leave my comfort zone of vintage crime, I sort of wish I hadn’t bothered as this is really just a re-write of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None and various others of that ilk. By now it has become a real cliche.

The setting is winter in the Catskill Mountains where several people are making their way to a luxury hotel. They all manage to get there in one piece although one of the cars is involved in a small accident. They’re an eclectic bunch and as many of the staff haven’t been able to get through the snow it’s left to the proprietor and his son to look after everyone.

The weather worsens and when the electricity and telephone lines come down they’re completely cut off. There has never been a signal for mobile phones – so when the murders begin they can’t get help. Who will be next?

There was a slightly different twist right at the end of this book but it wasn’t enough to elevate it to four stars on Goodreads. I can imagine that if you haven’t read a lot of crime fiction, or vintage crime then you would enjoy this one a lot more than I did. I just felt a bit miffed that it’s such a hackneyed tale.

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 Ghost Fields by Elly Griffiths

The Ghost Fields cover

The Ghost Fields by Elly Griffiths is one of her Dr Ruth Galloway mysteries and it was published in 2015. The setting is Norfolk where Ruth has been called in to help when a body is discovered in a World War 2 aeroplane which has been dug up by a man in a digger who is clearing a field prior to houses being built on it. The whole area had been peppered with US airfields during the war, Norfolk was the ideal location due to the extreme flatness of the county. Of course nothing is straightforward and so begins a mystery involving a local landowning family.

This is an enjoyable read, it was good to catch up with everyone again and a bit of a shock to realise that Ruth’s daughter Kate is at the stage of starting school already, but such is life as you’ll know if you’ve been down that road yourself.

The love lives of everyone involved in these books have just become even more of a mess. There’s nobody in a truly happy relationship although it looks like Cloughie might be on the right road, although I’m not holding my breath.

I’m looking forward to reading the next one in the series which I think is called The Woman in Blue.

One mild annoyance is that aeroplane hangar is spelled hanger – silly.

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.