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.

Guardian Review links

It’s ages since I wrote about some Guardian Review articles that I think might be of interest to people, so here goes!

Last week’s Review had an article in it about Patricia Highsmith, it sounds like she was a very strange character herself. You can read it here. The world’s champion ball-bouncer is a short story by her which has been unseen for 73 years.

There’s a new Dostoevsky out – Dostoevsky in Love by Alex Christofi, it looks like it might be an interesting read.

I will definitely be trying to get my hands on Luckenbooth by Jenni Fagan. It’s a novel which is set across nine decades in an Edinburgh tenement.

If SF and Fantasy are your thing then have a look at Eric Brown’s column here.

Readers Imbibing Peril XV

I’ve come to the end of Readers Imbibing Peril, it’s the first time I’ve taken part and I did enjoy it. I did quite well I think, the only book on my original list that I didn’t read is Shirley Jackson’s Dark Tales. I requested this one from the library and it hasn’t arrived yet, I will read it when/if it does turn up.

The only author who was new to me was Raymond Chandler, I’ve been meaning to get around to reading him for decades, I loved The Big Sleep so I’ll definitely be reading more of his books.

A Better Man by Louise Penny

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

The Stone Circle by Elly Griffiths

The Golden Tresses of the Dead by Alan Bradley

Dark Tales by Shirley Jackson

The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes The Martian Menace by Eric Brown

A Step So Grave by Catriona McPherson

Checkmate to Murder by E.C.R. Lorac

The Turning Tide by Catriona McPherson

Cloak of Darkness by Helen MacInnes


The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes The Martian Menace by Eric Brown

The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes The Martian Menace cover

Sherlock Holmes and the Martian Menace by Eric Brown is the most recent publication in the series which is published by Titan Books. It’s not at all my usual kind of reading fare, I’ve never been a huge Sherlock Holmes fan mainly because I found his smart Alec observations to be quite tedious, thankfully they don’t feature too much in this book, but otherwise I think this strange mixture of the Edwardian era and SF works really well.

Earth has been invaded by Martians who are obviously much more technologically advanced than humans. The first invasion was very violent and culminated in many deaths but the invaders couldn’t fight off a common terrestrial virus (yep) so it was ultimately a failure. Six years later another Martian armada arrives on Earth, suposedly they’re peace-loving and their technological advances are very welcome by the people of Earth as they bring prosperity. There’s no doubt though that the Martians are in charge and Earth is just a part of their empire.

When Holmes and Watson are asked to investigate the death of an allegedly famous Martian philosopher and the investigation takes them to Mars, it isn’t long before Holmes realises that the whole thing is a con to get them to Mars.

All is not hunky dory on the planet and there’s a rebel faction, they’re not at all happy with those in power. Can they team up with Holmes and Watson?

I really enjoyed this book which has plenty of tension, interesting characters, is well written and also manages to convey an authentic Edwardian atmosphere at the same time as being futuristic.

I must admit that I was given this book by the author who is an old friend of ours. He writes science-fiction and also a crime series which is set in the 1950s. Although Eric Brown is a proud Yorkshireman he has been living happily in Scotland for several years now, but I’m not sure if he can be counted as a Scottish author.

Landed Gently by Alan Hunter

Landed Gently cover

Landed Gently by Alan Hunter was first published in 1957, it’s the first book that I’ve read by the author, but it won’t be the last. It’s a really old fashioned big house murder mystery, complete with floor plan of the house. Like many books with that setting it features a railway journey early on and for me that all contributes to the atmosphere. I love those old railway carriages and I could see it clearly in my mind.

It begins with Chief Inspector George Gently of the C.I.D. preparing to travel to Northshire where he has been invited to spend Christmas. Settling down in his first class train carriage suddenly he has to get up to help a young man into the carriage, Lieutenant Earle is in the US airforce and he’s spending Christmas at Merely Park, another large house close to where Gently is going.

So far so traditional – but although it was fairly obvious to me what was going to happen from very early on, that didn’t detract from my enjoyment and with twists and turns it reached a satisfactory conclusion and I didn’t guess the perpetrator.

I’ve seen Alan Hunter’s books about for years but I’ve never bought any before as I knew that there was a TV series featuring George Gently, and I’ve never wanted to watch it, mainly because I’m not keen on the actor that plays George Gently. It turned out though that the TV series is really nothing like the books at all, they just borrowed the character it seems.

Our friend Eric Brown the writer of the Langham and Dupre crime mysteries gave me this book to read.

Murder at the Loch by Eric Brown

 Murder at the Loch cover

Murder at the Loch by Eric Brown is the third in his Langham and Dupre mystery series and this one is possibly even better than the first two Murder by the Book and Murder at the Chase.

The setting is a freezing cold December in 1955. Donald Langham is of course a writer and he’s preparing for his marriage to his fiancee Maria Dupre, but his wartime commanding officer Major Gordon has contacted him and his friend Ralph Ryland, he needs their help. Donald and Ralph drop everything and go off to help.

Major Gordon now owns a luxury hotel in the wilds of the Scottish Highlands, so it’s to the hotel that Donald and Ralph make their way as someone has been taking potshots at the major – or maybe they were aiming at the major’s companion.

Major Gordon is attempting to raise the wreck of a German Dornier bomber which had crashed into the nearby loch in 1945. The winter weather has hampered the project, but it also seems that someone doesn’t want the Dornier to be lifted from the loch. Why would that be? And why was a Dornier flying in that area in 1945 anyway? Who or what were its cargo?

As the weather closes in on them Donald and Ralph are stranded in the hotel with the rest of the guests, then one of them is murdered. With everyone under suspicion Murder at the Loch has all of the suspense of a vintage murder mystery and the charm too.

It was only a matter of time before Maria Dupre managed to get in on the act too and Donald’s literary agent Charles Elder makes a welcome entrance towards the end of the book when he is finally released from Wormwood Scrubs where he has been languishing “at Her Majesty’s pleasure,” – in other words he’s been in jail – due to the discriminatory laws of the time. Charles is one of my favourite characters in this series so I hope he has an even bigger part to play in the next book.

I love Eric Brown’s writing and his ability to capture the atmosphere of the 1950s.

Although Eric is a typical Yorkshireman he has been living in Scotland for a number of years now and so this book counts towards the Read Scotland 2016 Challenge.

Murder at the Chase by Eric Brown

Murder at the Chase by Eric Brown is the second book in the Langham and Dupre mystery series. These books tick a lot of boxes for me as I enjoy the 1950s setting, this one begins as a locked room mystery – something else which I like – and there’s an English village location.

It’s not absolutely necessary to have read the first book in this series Murder by the Book but it is preferable I think. You can read my thoughts on that one here.

It’s July 1955 and the writer Donald Langham has just about plucked up courage to ask Maria Dupre to marry him but he’s planning a romantic setting in which to do the deed, he’s taking her off to rural Suffolk.

Just as they are about to leave for their trip Langham gets a phone call from Alastair Endicott asking him for help to track down his father who seems to have gone missing, despite his study door and window being locked. Edward Endicott had been working on the biography of a Victorian Satanist called Vivian Stafford, a some time resident of Humble Barton, the small Suffolk village where the Endicotts live. Vivian Stafford has apparently returned to the village, claiming to be over 120 years old and a possessor of supernatural powers.

Donald Langham realises that Humble Barton isn’t far from where they were going for their romantic break so he decides to go there and see if he can help solve the mystery.

I’m already looking forward to reading the third in this series, which is yet to be published. My only gripe with this one is that the literary agent Charles Elder doesn’t appear in it as much as I would like and not being of a romantic frame of mind I’ll be very glad when Langham and Dupre actually get hitched, then they can settle down to married bickering and banter which I find to be more entertaining than romance. This is a well written book in which Brown manages to conjure up a very believable 1950s.

Wolf Hall and Beyond – the Guardian

On Wednesday the BBC will be televising Wolf Hall so it has been in the news recently and the Guardian has Wolf Hall and Beyond as the front page of yesterday’s Review section. If you’re interested you can read John Mullan’s article here. I haven’t read any of her books apart from Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies but I really want to read her earlier work now. In fact there are quite a lot of interesting articles in this week’s Review, see if there’s anything you fancy reading about here.

I know that quite alot of people collect the old Ladybird books nowadays, I’m not one of them but I must admit that they are very nostalgic. There’s an article about them here. There has been a hundred years of Ladybird design, you can have a look at the Guardian gallery here.

If science-fiction is your thing then you might like to read author Eric Brown’s reviews of up and coming books here.

Jani and the Greater Game by Eric Brown

Jani and the Greater Game by Eric Brown is a science-fiction book, more specifically it’s Steampunk and it’s the first Steampunk book which I’ve read. In fact the book was dedicated to Jack and myself, as you can see from the photo below. Eric Brown has been a full time science-fiction writer for 20 odd years but this is his first foray into Steampunk.

Book Dedication

 Jani and the Greater Game cover

I didn’t really know what to expect of this book but I was agreeably surprised, I really liked it and am now looking forward to reading the sequel, which I believe isn’t quite finished yet.

Janisha Chaterjee is an 18 year old who has been educated in Cambridge but her father, an Indian government minister is seriously ill, so Jani has returned to see him. On the way back home the airship she is travelling on is attacked and most of the other travellers are killed. Jani survives along with an old lady, Lady Eddington, whom she had befriended on the journey, who it turns out has influence in high places. They are helped by a strange looking being who had been a prisoner on the airship and he gives Jani what she thinks is a coin, before he legs it away from the Russian soldiers who are advancing on them.

So begins Jani’s adventure where she has to dodge the British army, Russian spies and a mysterious Indian holy man and his side-kick. Jani has difficulty deciding who can be trusted and her life is in danger from just about everyone it seems. Amongst the bad guys there are a few really likeable characters which is always a must for me to enjoy a book.

It turns out that steampunk books are a sort of combination of historical fiction and science-fiction. The atmosphere in this one is Victorian with some wonderful futuristic gadgets thrown in. Who wouldn’t love an enormous mechanical elephant which you can ride on and in?

Eric Brown did live in India for a few years so I’m presuming that the Indian parts are all authentic. Go on, if you’re new to steampunk too – give this one a go!

Murder By The Book by Eric Brown

Eric Brown has been writing science fiction successfully for donkey’s years but Murder By The Book is his first foray into crime fiction and going by this one I certainly hope it won’t be his last. It’s published by Creme de la Crime, an imprint of Severn House Publishing.

I read far more vintage crime than contemporary crime books, mainly because I don’t go in for ultra gory descriptions, so the 1950s London setting fitted the bill for me, Brown managed to evoke the atmosphere well, not that I was there at the time mind you, but I have soaked up a fair amount of the ambience in my years of reading vintage crime. It’s also nice and bookish, involving crime writers, agents and publishers.

Charles Elder is a literary agent who confesses to Donald Langham, one of the writers that he represents, that he’s being blackmailed over compromising photos. Charles is actually a likeable character, bon viveur, gourmand and generous gent, something quite rare in literary circles. Unfortunately his Achilles’ heel is that he’s a bit of an old queen at a time when it was still illegal in the UK. Donald has had some experience of working in a detective agency in the past so he offers to try to track down the blackmailer for Charles.

Donald isn’t exactly successful and more crimes follow thick and fast when crime writers are found dead in bizarre circumstances. When Charles ends up in hospital it gives Donald the chance to get closer to Maria Dupre, Charles’s French assistant, he has fancied her from afar for years. They bond over their mutual angst over Charles. Donald is a bit slow when it comes to women it would seem.

As ever, I don’t want to say too much about the storyline, I did have an inkling as to the culprit at around the half-way or two thirds mark but it certainly didn’t detract from my enjoyment and there were plenty of twists and turns along the way which had me doubting my guess. An awful lot of tea drinking goes on in Murder By The Book, with Earl Grey being Donald’s tea of choice. So if you’re a bit of a tea Jenny too you might want to make sure that you’re well supplied with your own favourite blend of tea to accompany the book.

I found Eric Brown’s writing to be smooth and pacey, I read this one in three chunks but I would have read it all in one sitting if life hadn’t got in the way of my reading time. Although I’ve not read an awful lot of science fiction I think I might just have a go at some of his SF too.

The front cover says: A Langham and Dupre Mystery. I’m looking forward to reading the next one and the development of Donald and Maria’s relationship.