The Poisoned Chocolates Case by Anthony Berkeley

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

Murder Under the Christmas Tree – short stories

 Murder Under the Christmas Tree cover

Murder Under the Christmas Tree is a compilation of short stories by well known authors, all set around about Christmas – as you would expect.

The first story is The Necklace of Pearls by Dorothy L. Sayers. I’m quite a fan of Sayers but I have to admit that I was a wee bit disappointed with this one as I guessed the solution fairly quickly.

The other contributers are Ian Rankin, Margery Allingham, Arthur Conan Doyle, Val McDermid, Ellis Peters, Edmund Crispin, G.K. Chesterton, Carter Dickson and Ngaio Marsh. The sleuths include Holmes, Lord Peter Wimsey, Cadfael, Father Brown, Rebus and others you will recognise.

It’s quite a collection of authors and I’m sure there’s something for everyone here, well everyone who enjoys a good murder around the festive season – as I do!

I read this book for the Christmas Spirit Reading Challenge.

Kirkcudbright – Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland

harbour 1

Kirkcudbright was one of the places that I particularly wanted to visit when we were down in the south-west of Scotland recently with Peggy. I had been there once before, years ago when our boys were wee and we stopped off there just to break a journey. McClellan Castle below is a stone’s throw from the harbour.

McClellan Castle 1

a street  Kirkcudbright 2

It’s well worth visiting this wee town but I must admit that I was a wee bit disappointed that it doesn’t have an awful lot in the way of shops or interesting places to visit. I had read somewhere that there were quite a few art galleries around as the town has always been very popular with artists, but we only found two galleries, one that had been taken over by an Edinburgh gallery for some weeks, and one which had artwork by just one artist.

The house below belonged to the artist Jessie M. King. She’s probably best known for her book illustrations. They’re beautifully delicate and ethereal. She lived there with her husband fellow artist E.A. Taylor.

aTaylor and King 2

Taylor and King 1

There’s a mixture of building types in the town, from teeny wee medieval cottages to quite grand Georgian villas, and just a stone’s throw from the main street the streets are amazingly peaceful.

Broughton House

Below is the artist A.E. Hornel‘s house which is open to the public I think.

Hornel 2

And there are closes like the one below leading to much older wee medieval houses.

a close 2

a close

Dorothy L. Sayers was one of the many artistic people who frequented Kirkcudbright and she actually set one of her books there – Five Red Herrings – when it was dramatised for TV they filmed it in and around Kirkcudbright.

It’s a fairly remote part of Scotland, but it’s a pretty wee place and it’s worth a visit if yoy find yourself in that area.

The Late Scholar by Jill Paton Walsh

The Late Scholar cover

The Late Scholar by Jill Paton Walsh and published in 2013 is one of those books in which she has taken the Dorothy L. Sayers characters, Harriet Vane and Lord Peter Wimsey and written a tale, supposedly in the style of Sayers. I read the first one which Walsh wrote, actually she finished a book which Sayers had begun, and I wasn’t too convinced by it as I recall.

But either I’m getting less fussy or this one was better. Set in 1953, Peter is now the Duke of Denver due to the death of his elder brother and part of his duties is to be the ‘visitor’ of an Oxford University college, St Severins.

There has been quite a lot of upset at the college between two warring factions of fellows. Some want to sell a rare book which may have been owned by King Alfred, and some of the writing in it may even be by the king. The other faction want to sell the book so that some land can be bought as a money making opportunity for the college.

The voting for and against has been at a deadlock and it seems that in desperation someone has taken to murder as a way of winning the vote. Harriet and Peter, with the help of Bunter of course sort things out.

Jill Paton Walsh does a good job of writing the characters, albeit they are less witty, mainly because they are now married, the storyline lacks the ‘will they won’t they’ sparkle of the earlier Sayers books. Peter and Harriet are now an old married couple with almost grown up sons, the chase has been long won and Peter doesn’t have to dress up in a harlequin suit again. A shame really as it was fun when Harriet kept turning his offers of marriage down. Especially as a large amount of the female readers would have jumped at the chance to marry someone like him, including Sayers herself.

Murder Underground by Mavis Doriel Hay

Murder Underground by Mavis Doriel Hay is one of those recently republished British Library Crime Classics, the book was first published in 1934.

I had never heard of the author before but the blurb on the back has a wonderful endorsement by Dorothy L. Sayers who happens to be my favourite crime writer so I thought it would be a good read.

Sayers wrote in the Sunday Times, 1934:

‘This detective novel is much more than interesting. The numerous characters are well differentiated, and include one of the most feckless, exasperating and lifelike literary men that ever confused a trail.’

Sadly I can’t really say that I agree. For me this was just an okayish read and I felt it really did drag on.

Miss Pongleton is an elderly lady who owns the Frampton Hotel which is the sort of place which has a company of permanent residents. When Pongle, as she is known to them ends up murdered on a London Underground railway staircase, it seems obvious who the culprit is and the police make an early arrest. But of course it doesn’t end there. I almost said ‘more’s the pity’ but it wasn’t that bad, just not as good as I had hoped.

I can think of classic crime writers who would have been more deserving of being reprinted, and probably you can too.

More Book Purchases

Well I didn’t get to the secondhand bookshops in Aberdeen on Saturday but we went to Stockbridge in Edinburgh on Monday and I was really lucky again.

I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw two Folio Society editions of the Dorothy L. Sayers books – Murder Must Advertise and Have His Carcase – in pristine condition for the princely sum of £3 each! Of course I had to buy them, I only had fairly grotty paperbacks before, but honestly it felt like robbery! I have been looking for a Folio Gaudy Night for ages, but I’ve only seen a well used one before and it was £35 which is much more than I’m willing to pay. I don’t expect I’ll ever see one for £3.

I also bought a Freeman Wills Crofts hardback – Inspector French’s Greatest Case.

And lastly I had a look at the junior section in one of the Stockbridge shops, I’m always looking for unusual copies of Peter Pan and various other children’s classics, but it was a Mary Stewart which caught my attention – A Walk in Wolf Wood, which is set in Germany’s Black Forest.

It’s very rare for me to go to Stockbridge and not find anything worth buying – bookwise anyway.

The Lighthouse by P.D. James

This was the last book which I read in 2011 and it was first published in 2005 and was a purchase from the library book sale, at only 50p for a hardback I just couldn’t resist it. I first read P.D.James books in the 1980s and of course lots of them have been adapted for TV but I rarely watch them because I’m not all that keen on the actor who plays Commander Adam Dalgliesh, but he was the actor that P.D. James wanted to play the part. I think she must have been doing what quite a few authors do – write themselves the perfect partner. As Dorothy L. Sayers did with Lord Peter Wimsey.

The Lighthouse is a classic detective story really, set on Combe Island which is an imaginary island off the Cornish coast. So when a murder occurs there’s a limit to the number of possible culprits. All very Agatha Christie-ish so far, but I must say that I think P.D. James’s writing is superior to Christie’s. Her descriptions are quite poetic and I have to say she is really good at ‘painting’ the scenery, which is just what I like. This is generally done through the eyes of Dalgleish as he is a poet when he is not detecting.

Combe Island has been owned by the same family for hundreds of years but in recent times it is being used as a place where the high fliers of the world can go to de-stress in an atmosphere of peace and safety. So when one of the inhabitants is found dead Dalgleish and his team consisting of Detective Inspector Kate Miskin and Sergeant Francis Benton-Smith are helicoptered in to investigate.

I enjoyed this book even if it wasn’t twisty-turny enough for my liking and although I wasn’t even trying to think about it it suddenly flashed into my head who the culprit was really early on in the book. I can’t make up my mind how I feel about that, it’s a bit of a toss up really. On one hand it’s annoying that I suspected the correct person all the way through but then in some way I feel quite chuffed that I got it right. Anyway, it’s definitely worth reading if you like detective stories.

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.

Flashback Challenge

I’ve been reading about all these book challenges that are going on and thought that it was about time that I signed up for one myself. The Flashback Challenge seems like a great excuse to re-read ‘old friends’ and I’m really enthusiastic about it, so I’m planning to read 12 books again, one for each month of the year – and here they are.

Flashback Challenge books

As I’ve never participated in a book challenge before, I’m just presuming that the idea is you write a review in your blog. Anyway, that’s what I’ll be doing with these books, although not particularly in this order.

1. The Enchanted April – by Elizabeth von Arnim.
2. Lark Rise – Flora Thompson.
3. And Quiet Flows the Don- Mikhail Sholokhov.
4. The Fortunes of War – Olivia Manning.
5. Strong Poison – Dorothy L. Sayers.
6. The Railway Children – E. Nesbit.
7. The Golden Age – Gore Vidal
8. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee.
9. Scenes of Clerical Life – George Eliot
10. Peter Pan – J.M. Barrie.
11. Kidnapped – R.L. Stevenson.
12. Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier.

I’m looking forward to it.