When we drove up north of Aberdeen for a few nights last week we had a specific goal in sight – a bookshop in Huntly that we had been told about by a friend. To be honest I was quite disappointed when I saw the shop as it’s really small, however I managed to buy a surprising number of books.
1. Continental Crimes Edited by Martin Edwards – a compilation of short stories, another in the British Crime Classics series.
2. Man Overboard by Monica Dickens
3. An Impossible Marriage by Pamela Hansford Johnson
4. Coot Club by Arthur Ransome
5. Company Parade by Storm Jameson
6. No Signposts in the Sea by Vita Sackville-West
and three Puffin books – yes it seems that I have started a Puffin collection – sort of inadvertently.
7. The Wool-Pack by Cynthia Harnett (A Carnegie Medal Winner)
8. The Machine Gunners by Robert Westall (A Carnegie Medal Winner)
9. A Parcel of Patterns by Jill Paton Walsh
Crimson Snow winter mysteries is a collection of vintage crime short stories edited by Martin Edwards. Reading this book gave me an opportunity to read a lot of vintage crime authors that I hadn’t read before.
The contributors are: Fergus Hume, Edgar Wallace, Margery Allingham, S.C. Roberts, Victor Gunn, Christopher Bush, Ianthe Jerrold, Macdonald Hastings, Julian Symons, Michael Gilbert and Josephine Bell.
Most of the stories are fairly short but the one by Victor Gunn is about seventy pages long so it’s really a novella and I don’t know if it’s because that one is longer – but I think it’s my favourite story. I’ll definitely be looking for more books by Victor Gunn anyway. I’ve seen a lot of his books on my travels but had no idea what they would be like and didn’t give them a go. No doubt now I won’t see any of his books in shops for yonks. That’s what happened to me with Dornford Yates, he was all over the place until Valerie said some of his books were good – and now they’ve disappeared after me being just about haunted by them previously.
I enjoyed this collection of short stories which are all set around winter/Christmas celebrations although the stories that I liked least were the ones by authors that I’ve read most. Margery Allingham and Macdonald Hastings disappointed me, maybe I just expected too much of them.
Published by British Library Crime Classics of course and the cover is taken from a vintage St Moritz travel poster. There’s a wee biography of each writer on the page before their story begins, which was interesting but I would have liked it if they had also added the date the story was originally published and which magazine it first appeared in. That’s me nit-picking though. This was perfect Christmas bedtime reading, why is murder and Christmas such a good combination?!
The Sussex Downs Murder by John Bude was first published in 1936 but I read a British Library Crimes Classic reprint. I love its cover which was taken from a Southern Railway poster for Seaford. Another plus for me is – there’s a map!
The setting is Chalklands Farm, on the Sussex Downs. Two brothers live there, William and John Rother, the farm has been in the family for three generations and William’s wife also lives there. When John’s car is found abandoned down a remote lane a few miles from the farm it’s obvious from the start that something has happened. A door is open and on close investigation there’s blood inside the car and on the inside of a cap. It doesn’t look like an accident – so what has happened to John and where is he now?
Superintendent Meredith is called in to lead the investigation and he uncovers lots of clues which point to various culprits throughout the book. It’s very detail heavy, something that I associate with male writers of crime fiction and by the end of this one my head was fairly spinning! In fact I lost concentration for a minute and had to go back and read a couple of pages over again.
Bude’s real name was Ernest Elmore and he was a theatre producer and director.
I enjoyed this one, I liked the relationship between Meredith and his son Tony, and I now know what a five valve super-het wireless was! My only slight disappointment was that it was set in a part of Sussex that I don’t know, it’s silly I know but I do like it when I can see the locations. This book has an introduction by Martin Edwards.
The Cheltenham Square Murder by John Bude was first published in 1937 but as you can see I read a British Library Crime Classics reprint. It has an introduction by Martin Edwards.
This is the second book by John Bude which I’ve read and I did enjoy it although it is a bit long-winded with all the possibilities gone into in depth. I’ve previously read his Cornish Coast Murder and you can read what I thought of that one here.
Cheltenham has a number of squares that are really cul-de-sacs with the houses only being on three sides and in Regency Square the inhabitants of the ten houses that it comprises are at loggerheads over whether a tree should be cut down or not. They are a disparate group of people ranging from well-heeled to just managing to scrape along financially. When one of the neighbours ends up being killed as he sat by a window Superintendent Meredith is asked to investigate. Was it an accident or murder?
I’ve found these British Library Crime Classic reprints to be a bit hit and miss, for me this one was a hit, although I still think that 1930s male crime writers in general concentrated too much on the minutiae of a mystery at the expense of the characters.
The Z Murders by J. Jefferson Farjeon was first published in 1932, but I read a 2015 British Crime Library Classics reprint which has an introduction by Martin Edwards.
I enjoyed this one, but not as much as his Mystery in White. Farjeon has a lovely turn of phrase at times, but towards the end of this book I began to feel that a major character was just too bizarre for words.
Again, a railway journey features in the story, I wonder if that was a bit of a motif where his writing was concerned. Not that I’m complaining because I think that a train instantly sets the scene for vintage crime.
Richard Temperley is travelling overnight by train from the north of England to Euston in London. Of course those overnight trains always get into London at crazily early times of the morning, it’s too early for Temperley to travel on to his sister’s house so he decides to spend some hours resting in a nearby hotel’s smoking-room.
The man that shared Temperley’s train compartment also ends up in the same smoking-room. He had ruined Temperley’s sleep through constant snoring so when Temperley realises that the man is no longer snoring he checks on him, sure enough – he’s dead – shot. The police are called and so begins a chase around the country from London to Bristol and back north again. In fact they were travelling along a road that I knew well, that’s always a plus for me.
But towards the end the storyline became very unlikely and I would say just about impossible. I think the author got fed up writing and just wound it up.
It’s still worth reading though and if possible I would give it a 3.5 on Goodreads.
The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards was published very recently, 2015. I read a review of it by Margaret@BooksPlease, and thought it was a must read for me by the sound of it. You can read what Margaret wrote here.
It’s one of those books which is fascinating but at the same time my heart sort of sank a bit as I kept adding yet more titles to my list of books to look out for, and even new to me authors to track down. I thought I had been quite good at delving into the more obscure crime writers output but it looks like I have a lot more to read.
Margaret was surprised at how many real murder cases had influenced so many of the authors but that was no surprise to me as I know that most authors don’t stray far from things which they’ve experienced, seen on the news or heard about from someone else. In fact one of my writer friends is completely up front about it and if you say to him in conversation something which he likes the sound of he’ll say – I’m having that for a book – and he does!
I have a copy of Bloody Murder by Julian Symons which Martin Edwards does mention as well as the author, but I didn’t manage to get to the end of that one yet, mainly because I find Symons to be too opinionated which is very annoying when he savages an author or book which you happen to rate quite highly.
The Golden Age of Murder is partly about the history of the Detection Club, which of course I knew about but I had been under the impression it was far more exclusive than it was, there were in fact a lot of members of it over the years, but I was interested to discover relationships between authors which I had no idea about, such as the close relationship between Anthony Berkeley and E.M Delafield of ‘Provincial Lady’ fame.
The book goes into the history of the paperback too as the books were launched in the 1930s at a time when few people could afford to buy hardbacks, in fact most of them were bought by libraries. Paperbacks were a cheap luxury which people were able to indulge themselves with. Austerity is a business opportunity if you can think of something which will be cheap and popular with the public. The chocolate industry went into overdrive in the 1930s, so many of the chocolate bars which we see as classics nowadays were launched in the early 1930s, cheap affordable luxuries for the masses. Roald Dahl was a real connoisseur of chocolate and he had all the facts and figures about them at his fingertips as you can see from a short bit on You Tube from years ago.
I see I’ve strayed yet again from the book I was chatting about, anyway – if you enjoy vintage crime/detective/murder mysteries – you’ll really enjoy reading The Golden Age of Murder.