Malice in Wonderland by Nicholas Blake

Malice in Wonderland cover

Malice in Wonderland by Nicholas Blake (Cecil Day-Lewis) was first published in 1940 but my copy is a 1947 reprint. Apparently this is titled The Summer Camp Mystery in the US. It has also been titled Malice with Murder and Murder with Malice. This is the sixth book in Blake’s Nigel Strangeways series.

The setting is Wonderland – a holiday camp in England. Hitler gets a brief mention but the book was obviously written just before war was declared.

The holidaymakers at Wonderland are a mixed bunch ranging from Cockneys to some rather well-heeled people, but when a prankster calling himself The Mad Hatter starts to cause trouble they’re all equally perturbed. As the pranks get progressively nastier Captain Wise the manager of the camp calls in Nigel Strangeways, a private detective. Suspicion falls on several people, and some even suspect themselves, but this one kept me guessing almost right to the end. I really enjoyed it.

Until I read this book I had been under the impression that holiday camps hadn’t been in existence in the UK until after World War 2 as I had read that somewhere. This book describes the wonderful London chefs who provided the meals, a ball room, a concert hall with professional entertainers and bars. All very luxurious compared with what most people would have had at home. The camp is set on a clifftop overlooking the sea and it occurred to me that cruises have now taken over from holiday camps which sound like they were just static cruises, and as some people never even get off a cruise ship when they reach their destinations – they might as well be in a holiday camp such as Wonderland.

Rolling Stone by Patricia Wentworth

I’ve read and enjoyed a lot of Patricia Wentworth’s Miss Silver books but Rolling Stone (first published in 1940) is the first book that I’ve read of hers which isn’t a Miss Silver mystery. I was on a ferry sailing to Belgium when I started reading this one and coincidentally Rolling Stone begins in Belgium.

Peter Talbot has just booked into a hotel in Brussels and he realises that the man in the room next to his is in a very bad way. Spike Reilly is feverish and delirious and it’s obvious that he’s dying. Peter Talbot is intrigued by some of the things he has heard him say and despite the fact that he is on an assignment for his uncle – Frank Garrett of the Foreign Office – on the spur of the moment Peter decides to change identity with Reilly, swapping over passports and following clues that lead to a grand country house in England where a painting is stolen.

More crimes pile up and the search for Maud Millicent Simpson – England’s most deadly woman – is on. The only problem is that as she’s a master/mistress of disguise, nobody knows what she looks like.

I really enjoyed this one which has been published as an e-book by Dean Street Press. I downloaded it for free a few weeks ago and I think it’s still possible to do that now, have a look anyway if you’re interested at

Murder in Piccadilly by Charles Kingston

 Murder in Piccadilly cover

Murder in Piccadilly by Charles Kingston was first published in 1936 but the one I read is one of those British Library Crime Classics which have atmospheric 1930s covers this one featuring Piccadilly Circus.

I really shouldn’t have enjoyed this book as much as I did because it’s one of those murder mysteries where the murder doesn’t occur until half way through the book. I really prefer it if the murder is discovered before page three and so you don’t really know anything much about the victim.

But there was enough going on in the first half to keep me interested and I really liked Kingston’s writing style, his dialogue is entertaining, witty and cutting at times.

The setting is mainly London although a country manor house does also feature. Ruby Cheldon is a World War 1 widow, her husband was blown up by a shell and she was left to bring up their son on her own. Bobbie is in his early 20s, but he has been so spoiled by his mother that despite having to live on her very small allowance he has no intention of getting a job.

The main reason for his lack of ambition is that he has been brought up with the knowledge that his father’s elder brother Massy Cheldon is very wealthy and as he has never married Bobbie will eventually inherit his money and property.

Uncle Massy is a miser and seems to enjoy maintaining his widowed sister-in-law and nephew in a life of penury, living in a poverty stricken part of London, while he lives the high life. Massy expects to live at least another twenty of thirty years more, but Bobbie has fallen for Nancy a beautiful young woman, a dancer in a nightclub. Nancy is only interested in Bobbie for his money though and it’s a shock for her to discover that the much talked of money and property is actually in the hands of Massy.

Bobbie is consumed by the unfairness of his life and feels that he is the rightful owner of the wealth and that Massy is simply keeping him from everything he should already have, including Nancy. Throw in a couple of dodgy characters from the seedier side of London in the shape of Nancy’s dancing partner and a failed boxer and it all adds up to a good vintage crime book with a nice twist near the end.

I will definitely be looking out for more books by Charles Kingston who was apparently a fairly prolific crime writer in his day but for some reason his books haven’t been reprinted over the years, until now.

There’s an introduction by Martin Edwards which of course should NOT be read before you read the book. It ends by him writing:This is not a cerebral country house whodunnit of the kind so often written during the Golden Age, but a good-natured old-fashioned thriller, that retains a warm period charm.

I agree.