In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes

In a Lonely Place by Dorothy B. Hughes was first published in 1947 but as you can see it has been reprinted by Penguin. From the cover the book was obviously made into a film, starring Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame. If I ever saw it it must have been back in the year dot.

Dix Steele had been in the American Air Force during World War 2, he was based in England but civilian life is difficult for him, he has serious mental problems, can’t stand any sort of noise and has been living off the hand-outs from a wealthy uncle. But now he has moved to Los Angeles and is staying in the apartment of Mel Terriss an old wartime acquaintance. Dix is supposedly writing a book and Terriss has moved to Rio for a while, leaving Dix with the use of everything of his, including his car and clothes!

Unknown to Dix another old wartime friend is living in the neighbourhood and when he bumps into Brub Nicolais Dix is surprised to discover that he is a detective. Brub is under quite a lot of stress as it seems there’s a serial killer operating in the area!

I really liked this one, particularly as the plot took a few unexpected turns – for me anyway.

I imagined all of the characters as being quite a bit younger than the people who were cast in the film. Much as I love Bogart he wouldn’t have been my choice to play Dix, he would have been too old, but that was common in Hollywood at that time, the male actors seemed to have much longer careers than the women and so were given parts that they were about 15 years too old for – or maybe the guys just looked older in those days!

The Locked Room by Elly Griffiths

The Locked Room by Elly Griffiths was published in 2022 and as the book begins the Coronavirus is just beginning to hit the UK. To begin with Ruth has been given the unenviable job of clearing her mother’s personal possessions from what had been the family home in London. Ruth’s father has re-married and his wife of a few years now wants to do some re-decorating, obviously she’s not going to do that around her predecessor’s old clothes. A box of old photographs has thrown up a puzzle for Ruth. Why would her mother have an old photograph of the outside of Ruth’s home, taken in the 1960s? Her mother had never liked Ruth living there, she thought it too remote, but it’s obvious that the cottage had featured in Ruth’s mother’s past somehow, and she had kept it secret.

Back in her beloved Norfolk Ruth soon becomes involved with the excavation of a skeleton, possibly a plague victim. Her students are always keen on that subject, but along comes the first lockdown and most of the students go home to struggle with Zoom lectures.

As Ruth and her daughter Kate begin to feel lonely in their remote cottage they’re cheered up by the arrival of a new neighbour next door, although that does make the frequent visits from Nelson slightly fraught as he is really breaking the lockdown. He’s investigating some apparent suicides, but possible murders, and he’s taking advantage of the fact that his wife is away to spend more time with Ruth.

Despite the fact that two years into the pandemic with the stats being higher than ever in Scotland, I could really have been doing with NOT reading about the pandemic, but I still enjoyed this one.

Murder at Primrose Cottage by Merryn Allingham

Murder at Primrose Cottage

Murder at Primrose Cottage by Merryn Allingham is the third book in her Flora Steele series, but it’s the first one that I’ve read, I would probably have enjoyed it more if I had read the first two. The setting is Sussex and then Cornwall, apparently in the 1950s but to be honest there isn’t much in the way of 1950s ambience.

Flora Steele owns a bookshop in Sussex, but when her friend Jack has to go to Cornwall to research a book that he’s writing she decides to accompany him. Jack writes murder mysteries and when he receives a threatening letter just before they set off for Cornwall, he thinks it might be better if Flora stays at home, but she’s determined to go with him.

The morning after they reach their rented cottage (with separate bedrooms) Flora discovers their landlord’s body in the orchard. The locals are quick to point the finger at Mercy Dearlove, the local witch or ‘peller’, and the police don’t seem at all interested in solving the crime, so Flora and Jack oblige and do it for them, and that obviously throws them into the path of danger.

I think the Cornish setting was quite realistic, there seemed to be quite a lot of rain and I remember that from the one time we travelled to that far end of England, as usual everyone said we should have been there the previous week!

I am of course a bit of a nit-picker when it comes to details in books, so I was annoyed that the author seems to think that grammar schools have fees – they don’t and never have had, you get in by academic merit. I was also puzzled by the use of torch and a flashlight in the same sentence as if they are two different things, when they are the same thing with flashlight obviously being the US word for what we call an electric torch, although nowadays the ‘electric’ bit is dropped. But this is quite an enjoyable read anyway and I would read the next one in the series I think.

My thanks to the publisher Bookouture who sent me a digital copy via NetGalley for review.

The Mirror Dance by Catriona McPherson

The Mirror Dance by Catriona McPherson is the 15th book in the author’s Dandy Gilver series and I’ve read them all, but I was a wee bit disappointed with this one. In fact by the time I got to about 70 pages from the end of the book I had lost all interest in the outcome, but I struggled on. I’ll be generous and say that maybe it is all the horrendous news from Ukraine which had an effect on me.

The setting is mainly Dundee and St Andrews. There has been a murder in Dundee. A Punch and Judy man is done to death while Dandy was actually watching his puppet show in a park, despite having a front row view, she didn’t see anyone approaching the puppet booth. How was it possible?

The investigation involves two supposedly rival publishing companies, Doig’s Publishers and D.C. Thomson’s and a possible problem over copyright. There are plenty of twists and turns along the way, in fact maybe too many.

There are a few annoying mistakes, such as the mention of the shop/newspaper, magazine distributor W.H. Smith, which didn’t exist in Scotland until fairly recent years as it was John Menzies which had that business in Scotland. The setting for the book is 1937.

There are some phrases which seem unlikely in Dundee of the 1930s, such as ‘state of the art’. But the mention of cricket not being played in Scotland is just plain wrong. Cricket was very popular in many areas of Scotland and still is. I live near two villages which have cricket pitches which are still in use and one of them won the National Village Cricket Cup in 1985. There’s a cricket pitch and pavillion in Kirriemuir, the birthplace of J.M. Barrie of Peter Pan fame, and he actually donated the ground and pavillion to the town as he was a huge fan of cricket, as was Arthur Conan Doyle, they played it together.

Anyway, possibly I’m being too picky and this series has just run its course for me.

Murder Most Vile by Eric Brown

The setting is 1957 London and the private detective and sometime author Donald Langham has been approached by a wealthy elderly retired businessman Vernon Lombard. He wants Langham to investigate the disappearance of his favourite son who is an artist. Lombard seems to be besotted with Christopher while he despises his younger son and treats his daughter as a dogsbody.

When Langham visits the artists’ colony where Christopher had been living it’s evident that all the other artists really disliked him, and with good reason. When a body is discovered it seems there are plenty of possible murderers.

Meanwhile Langham’s associate Ryland is investigating the disapperance of a champion racing greyhound which belongs to Arnold Grayson who had been a Fascist leader before WW2, and Ryland’s father had been involved in the mob violence that had ensued in the famous “Battle” of Cable Street. The whole thing turns into a nightmare for Ryland.

This is a really enjoyable read although I would have liked a bit more of Maria (Dupre), Donald Langham’s wife. I think they’re a really good partnership and I also missed Langham’s literary agent, Charles, who doesn’t feature at all in this one.

Thank you to Severn House who sent me a digital copy of this book via NetGalley.

The Art of Dying by Ambrose Parry

The Art of Dying  cover

The Art of Dying by Ambrose Parry was first published in 2019 and it’s a sequel to The Way of All Flesh. The setting is Edinburgh 1849 where Doctor Will Raven has arrived after spending some time in Germany. He has returned to become assistant to the famous Professor Simpson and is looking forward to seeing Simpson’s housemaid again, he and Sarah had had a bit of a dalliance, but Raven hadn’t been able to stomach the thought of marrying a housemaid, albeit one who has a deep knowledge of medicine and herbs as Professor Simpson was happy for her to read his medical books and help him in his clinics. Raven is somewhat mortified to discover that another doctor hadn’t been so and so Sarah is now a doctor’s wife.

Raven realises that people within the city are dying, whole families within days of each other and he’s hoping that he will be able to prove that it’s a new illness that’s killing them, it would be a great thing for his reputation and career. He and Sarah team up to do some investigating. Meanwhile Professor Simpson’s reputation is being attacked by some of his colleagues, the medical profession is a dirty one with a lot of metaphorical knife sharpening going on.

Will and Sarah are determined to protect him, but Will is again in trouble with the local moneylender, something that he thought he had seen the end of previously.

I’ve really enjoyed these books which have a great atmosphere of old Edinburgh, from the lowest of the low in the Old Town to the wealthy and well-known inhabitants of the New Town.

It would seem that nothing much has changed when it comes to ambition within the medical profession – for some people anyway as I was reminded of that English doctor some years ago who was so determined to enhance his reputation and make a name for himself that he ignored anything in his research that didn’t fit in with his own theory. Which would have been harmless I suppose except he terrified some parents into refusing to get their children vaccinated against serious childhood diseases. I believe that after being dealt with in the UK he has moved on to the US to do the same thing, so endangering the lives of loads of children. Thankfully Will Raven is made of different stuff!

Death on the Trans-Siberian Express by C. J. Farrington

Death on the Trans-Siberian Express by C. J. Farrington is the first book by the author and it’s the first in an Olga Pushkin series. As you would expect from the title it’s a murder mystery, but the very different contemporary Siberian setting was an enjoyable change for me, although I have to say that it took me a while to get into the book, this is inevitable with the first in a series I think.

Olga Pushkin is a Railway Engineer (Third Class) based in Siberia, a very rural area where her main job is to maintain the tracks. However Olga has dreams, her father had forced her to follow him into work on the railway, although he hasn’t worked for years and he’s now a drunkard. Olga’s mother is dead so she lives with her father alone and Olga is such a soft and kind soul that she ends up doing good turns for everyone and putting herself last. But in her heart she longs to be a writer and wants to study literature at the Tomsk State University. Meanwhiel she’s writing a book called Find Your Rail Self: 100 Life Lessons from the Trans Siberian Railway.

But for years there has been a serial murderer opertaing on the Trans-Siberian Railway and one night Olga is felled by a body hitting her, it had been thrown from a train as she walked along by the side of the track. It’s the beginning of her involvement in the investigation.

I really liked the character Olga Pushkin and I plan to read the next one in the series. I am thankful I was sent a digital copy of this book from Constable via NetGalley.

England Expects by Sara Sheridan

 England Expects cover

England Expects by Sara Sheridan was published in 2014 and it’s the third in the author’s Mirabelle Bevan series. The setting is mainly Brighton during a summer heatwave in 1953.

Joey Gillingham has just arrived in Brighton on an early train from London, he’s a sports journalist and is in the town to report on a series of boxing matches, but he’s also keen on horse-racing. The people who inhabit those sporting worlds can be ruthless, and it seems that Joey has upset someone as he is murdered in the prologue!

Obviously Mirabelle is interested in the case when she reads of it in the local newspaper, and she and her side-kick Vesta become involved in a very dangerous investigation. I can’t really say they are aided by Superintendent McGregor, because the boot is really on the other foot, and although I found the plot which involves Freemasons to be rather unlikely I did enjoy being in the company of Mirabelle, Vesta and their friends.

In general Sara Sheridan does a fairly good job of capturing the atmosphere of the early 1950s, however she doesn’t always get it right. At one point Mirabelle and Vesta have to travel by train to Cambridge, changing trains at King’s Cross London where they buy bottled beer from a packed station bar. During the journey they sip the beer!

No, that just would never have happened in 1950s England. Women would never have drunk beer in public and the only thing acceptable would have been cups of tea from a tea trolley. Despite that glaring incongruity I still really liked this book. I think I’m enjoying this series because I like being in the company of the characters – as much as anything else.

The Lantern Men by Elly Griffiths

The Lantern Men by Elly Griffiths is the 13th book in her Dr Ruth Galloway series. Somehow I missed it out and went on to read the 14th The Night Hawk which annoyingly kept referring to things that had happened in the previous book.

Anyway, in this one Ruth has left Norfolk where she had been a lecturer at North Norfolk University, but when Cambridge offered her the post of Head of Archaeology she couldn’t turn it down. She has a whole new life now including an American partner called Frank. She has been surprised that the students at Cambridge University seem no cleverer than those in Norfolk, however they are more confident presumably because of their mainly private education. I love it that Griffiths wrote that. Over confidence can be dangerous, just look at our prime minister!

To the book, Nelson is investigating getting to the end of a court case and he’s delighted when the man that he had charged with multiple murders is found guilty. But Ivor March is adamant that he didn’t kill the women, he does however admit to killing another woman and tells Nelson where she’s buried, but before that March makes Nelson promise to get Ruth to do the excavation, he doesn’t trust Phil Trent’s work. So Ruth finds herself back in her old stamping ground of Norfolk and meeting up with her old friends again – including Nelson of course.

This is a good read, Elly Griffiths was inspired to write it after reading about the Lantern Men in a book on Norfolk folklore. Annoyingly there are quite a few typos in this book, repeated words and even phrases, surely someone should have proof read it.

Arsenic and Old Puzzles by Parnell Hall

Arsenic and Old Puzzles by Parnell Hall is a Puzzle Lady Mystery, the 14th in that series. I hadn’t heard of the author at all until I read a review of this one fairly recently by a favourite blogger, crucially I can’t remember which one! Thank you – whoever you are.

Anyway, I really enjoyed this book. There are quirky characters, the Puzzle Lady/Cora is a sort of cross between Agatha Raisin and Ruth in Louise Penny’s Three Pines series. Cora has the man mad leanings of Agatha and the irreverence and snarkiness of Ruth, minus her swearing.

Two elderly sisters in Bakerhaven CT take in B&B guests and when one of their guests keels over dead at the table it’s originally assumed that it was natural causes because he was no spring chicken, but the autopsy says differently, Cora knew before that anyway. As things develop it’s clear that someone is replicating the storyline of the classic Cary Grant film Arsenic and Old Lace.

Several bodies turn up, all of them with a sudoku or crossword puzzle either on the body or nearby. As Ruth is supposedly a whizz at both of those types of puzzle she’s expected to solve the whole thing. The book contains sudokus and crossword puzzles which I think are supposed to help with solving the murder.

This is a very light-hearted murder mystery with witty dialogue between some of the characters. I’ll definitely read more by the author if possible.