Bloody Murder by Julian Symons

Bloody Murder from the detective story to the crime novel by Julian Symons is one of those books which you can dip into now and again when you feel like it. It was first published in 1972 and was hailed as a classic study of crime fiction. My copy is a revised edition which was published in 1985.

Symons is quite opinionated which is why he wanted to write the book I suppose, but it can be annoying when he is dismissive about one of your favourite writers but of course he’s entitled to his opinion and I just agree to disagree with him. It’s an interesting read and he mentions a few writers I hadn’t heard of before.

I haven’t read any of his crime fiction yet although I have been assured they are well worth reading. He wrote a lot of books in his lifetime (he died in 1994) including history and biographies, of people such as Dickens, Carlyle and Poe. He was awarded the Cartier Diamond Dagger for services to crime literature in 1990.

Have any of you read any of his crime fiction? I’d love to hear your opinion of them if you have.

No Wind of Blame by Georgette Heyer

This book is a murder mystery and I must say that I prefer these ones to Heyer’s romances, but I’m not a huge fan of romances anyway. I didn’t read the blurb on the back of this book until I had finished it, and I’m thankful that I didn’t as it gives away part of the mystery. Why do they do that? The main detective in this book is Inspector Hemingway but as he doesn’t really have a huge personality I found that he didn’t contribute much to the flavour of the whole thing.

Heyer manages to combine murder mysteries and humour successfully which is a nice dimension to her books and I can’t think of any other crime novelist who attempts comedy. Well, I suppose Dorothy Sayers did but not to the same extent.

At 348 pages this is quite a thick book as vintage crime goes, and I had put off reading it for a while for this reason. But it was actually a really quick read and enjoyable. It was first published in 1939.

I wouldn’t call the first paragraph an interest grabber: “The Prince is coming by the one-forty-five. That means he’ll be here in time for tea. Well, I do call that nice.”

This is a classic country house mystery, usually a good start for any thriller. The house, called Palings, is owned by Mrs Ermyntrude Carter who had been a chorus girl in her day, and she has a husband who spends his time squandering his wife’s money and is a general liability. His cousin Mary is also part of the household.

The rest of the characters consist of the neighbours, the local doctor
and Vicky who is Mrs Carter’s daughter and fancies herself as a bit of an actress.

The crime doesn’t occur until about a third of the way through the book so part of the mystery is figuring out who the victim is going to be, as well as who is the culprit.

Georgette Heyer seems to be unable to write anything which doesn’t have a dollop of romance in it but it doesn’t descend into the gloopy, schmalzy sort.

Dorothy L. Sayers said Miss Heyer’s characters and dialogue are an abiding delight to me… I have seldom met people to whom I have taken so violent a fancy from the word “Go”.

One thing I must mention is that the only other Ermintrude that I have ever come across before is of course the cow in The Magic Roundabout. O.K. the spelling is different. But at the beginning I couldn’t help thinking of Ermintrude the cow whenever the character of Ermyntrude Carter was speaking.

If you want a reminder of that iconic BBC programme for children of all ages, have a look here.

Arsene Lupin, Gentleman -Thief by Maurice Leblanc

This is another random book which I borrowed from my local library, I had never heard of Maurice Leblanc but apparently he is very famous, although more so in France as you would expect.

This is a collection of short stories which seem to have been published in a magazine around 1907. The character of Arsene Lupin is variously a burglar, thief, con man and detective and the stories were styled on Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories.

Well I have never liked Arthur Conan Doyle’s writing (I suppose that that is sacrilege to a lot of people and from a fellow Scot too but it is just a fact) so this wasn’t really my cup of tea either. However if you are keen on Conan Doyle then you will probably like Maurice Leblanc.

For some reason I just am not impressed with the characters which these authors came up with.

I do love vintage crime though but I think that the women crime writers were head and shoulders above the men. Sayers, Christie, Allingham, Tey and more all have an edge and style that none of the men seem to have. I wonder why?

There’s probably a Ph.D. thesis there for someone.

The Flight of the Falcon by Daphne du Maurier

Thriller & Suspense Reading Challenge 2010

This book was first published in 1965 and although I enjoyed it,
I don’t think it is anywhere near as good as du Maurier’s earlier work. At 272 pages, it is a very quick read. I must admit that I am not a fast reader as I take the view that as someone has gone to the bother of writing every word, it is only fair that I should read them all and not skim. It is well written and I found that it hadn’t really dated that much.

It is the story of a holiday courier called Armino Fabbio who conducts coach parties of tourists from Genoa to Rome. When a male tourist propositions the young and handsome Armino and slips a 10,000 lire note into his hand, Armino decides to get rid of the money by passing it on to an old lady who is slumped on the cathedral steps.

Unfortunately, she is murdered soon after and Armino decides that the safest thing for him is to get away from the area and he ends up back in the town where he had grown up, having left it as a young boy at the end of the war.

Since then his home town of Ruffano has enlarged due to the local university expanding, with as many as 5,000 students residing there or nearby.

Nobody recognizes the adult Armino and he takes a job in the university library, becoming involved with the students and staff and discovering that there is a disturbing rivalry between the Arts and Economics faculties, creating an atmosphere of menace.

He lives in fear of being traced to Ruffano by the police, especially when he discovers that the murder victim was his childhood nanny.

The book finishes with a spectacular festival which the students take part in and draws to what was for me an unexpected conclusion.

I don’t think I would read this one again though. It’s certainly not in the Rebecca league.

2010 Flashback Challenge: January

Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers.

It must be about 30 years since I first read this book and although it isn’t my favourite Sayers read, I think this is a good one to start with. It was written in 1930 and was her sixth murder mystery to be published.

It introduces us to the character of Harriet Vane. At the beginning of the book she is on trial for the murder of her ex-lover, who has been poisoned. Lord Peter Wimsey sees her in court and becomes interested in the case as he can’t believe that she is a murderer, although all the evidence points to her.

He takes on her case and during the course of his investigations he falls in love with Harriet making it all the more important that he can save her from the gallows.

Lord Peter owns a detective agency which is disguised as a typing bureau which is staffed by women who can infiltrate offices and companies which need to be investigated. The nickname for the bureau is ‘The Cattery’ and half in jest – half in earnest Lord Peter has compiled a list of rules for his employees. Rule 7 is:
Always distrust the man who looks you straight in the eyes. He wants to prevent you from seeing something. Look for it.

A very good maxim – I think.

The story line is autobiographical, telling of a disastrous previous relationship and although Dorothy’s lover wasn’t poisoned, she probably wished that he had been. She didn’t seem to have much luck with men and seems to have written the character of Lord Peter Wimsey to suit her perfect idea of a man. The character of Harriet Vane is very much based on Dorothy herself.

I enjoyed re-reading this book, but then I’m keen on things which are set in the 1920/30s. I started reading Dorothy Sayers books in the 1970s and in 1978, completely by coincidence we moved to Essex and the office window of my new workplace looked into what had been Dorothy Sayers back garden in Witham. She was long gone by then as she died in 1957.

I’ve also enjoyed viewing the various adaptations of her books over the years on the television.

Edward Petherbridge was perfect as the aristocratic detective and Harriet Walter seemed made for the part of Harriet Vane.

If you enjoy vintage murder mysteries you will probably enjoy this book.

The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

I’ve been trailing our copy of The Moonstone around for over 33 years and six house moves and over 500 miles then back again. So it was definitely overdue for some real attention.

The book was a school prize which my husband won for first place in science in 1967 but he claims that he has never read it.

It is basically a mystery story which was first published in 1868. There was a bit of a boom in detective stories around about the end of the First World War and at that time the genre began to be seriously discussed.

One well known novelist had the opinion that The Moonstone was probably the finest detective novel ever written. As you can imagine that gave Wilkie Collins’s books a great boost. Until then he had been seen as nothing special and quite overlooked.

Apparently Collins didn’t regard it as a mystery novel – he said “The attempt made, here, is to trace the influence of character on circumstances. The conduct pursued, under a sudden emergency, by a young girl supplies the foundation on which I have built this book.”

There is quite a lot of humour in the book which I must admit I hadn’t been expecting so that was a nice surprise.

At one point I asked my husband if he was sure that he had never read the book as a youngster, he denied that he ever had but I have my doubts.

When Mr. Betteredge decided to get married to his housekeeper it was because it would be more economical for him. As a housekeeper he had to pay her so much each week, but as a wife she had to give him her services for nothing.

That attitude fairly well matches my husband’s – or is that just the way with all men.

Most of the comedy is provided by Miss Clack who is a very enthusiastic Christian who spends a lot of her time trying to get people to read the tracts which she scatters liberally around the place. She reminded me very much of born again Christians who used to live next door to us.

All in all, I quite enjoyed The Moonstone although it isn’t a book which I would want to read again. Too many books to try to get through anyway and I’m looking forward to The Woman in White, of which I have heard good reports.