It Walks by Night by John Dickson Carr was published in 1930 and it’s the first of his books to be published. As with vintage Penguin crime books it’s short at just 190 pages, but it felt like twice as long for me. Maybe I just wasn’t in the mood for it, the crime takes place very quickly which is always a plus for me and it’s a locked room mystery which I usually enjoy. I can only say that John Dickson Carr’s writing improved over the years.
The setting is a gambling house in Paris where the decapitated body of the Duc de Saligny has been discovered in a room. How did it happen?
I slogged on to the end but didn’t really care who did it or why. I rarely manage to give up on a book when I’ve begun reading it – a habit that I wish I could break!
The crimson in the purple by Holly Roth was first published in 1957 and it’s the third book that I’ve read by the author, I really like her writing. She also wrote under the names K.G. Ballard and P.J. Merrill.
Bill Farland is working as a private investigator until his career as a playwright takes off, so when the youngest member of an American acting dynasty comes to him for help he’s very happy to take on the job, not just because he’s desperate for money, he hopes that it’ll be a chance for him to push forward his new play. It looks like someone has been trying to poison Catherine Hadden who seems to be being treated as a dogsbody by the rest of her illustrious family of actors and set designers. Catherine is their housekeeper in the large Victorian pile that Dominic the head of the dynasty refuses to sell. Strangely Catherine has been told that there’s no money for her to go to college.
Bill Farland is invited to a dinner party at the Hadden family home as a friend of Catherine’s and to begin with he’s rather star-struck but in no time he’s gone right off Terratta Hadden whom he had idolised previously as in real life she’s a bitch. In fact the Haddens are a fairly ghastly bunch who behave badly even in front of guests. Things quickly go from bad to worse, but I don’t want to say any more about that.
For me this was a tense psychological thriller and I didn’t guess the ending which is always a big plus. The book would have made a really good film I think but maybe it was thought that the private detective scenario had been used enough in films by the late 1950s.
The footsteps at the lock by Ronald Knox was first published in 1928, but it’s available on Project Gutenberg Canada as an ebook for free here. My copy is a Penguin Crime paperback from 1964.
This book features two young cousins Derek and Nigel who have a bit of a family resemblance which confuses some people when they are both at Oxford, but they have very different personalities. Derek is the eldest and will inherit £50,000 when he’s 25, but he has a dangerous lifestyle of alcohol and drug use which makes it quite likely that he won’t make it to 25. The money will go to Nigel if Derek dies before his 25th birthday, that’s quite a motive for murder and when Derek disappears Nigel is obviously under suspicion.
I think that Ronald Knox writes along the same lines as Freeman Wills Crofts, heavy on detail and timing, a very male style of crime writing which I don’t always have patience with. I’ll give this one three stars on Goodreads.
Old Hall, New Hall by Michael Innes was first published by Gollancz in 1956 but my copy is a 1964 Penguin Crime paperback.
I’m one of those readers who prefers my vintage crime reading to be of the sort where a crime takes place almost immediately. I was to be severely disappointed by that aspect of the book as the author spent an awful lot of time ‘vamping til ready’ – as I call it. Despite that I did enjoy reading this book, I just think that it was wrongly marketed. Michael Innes also wrote under the name J.I.M. Stewart and those books tend to be the ones that are set at a university, in his day job he was a professor of English literature at various universities, ending up at Oxford.
Colin Clout is a young unemployed academic, desperate for work. When he goes back to his old college his luck seems to have turned immediately as he meets Olivia a fabulous looking girl, and then his old professor offers him a chance of the Shufflebotham Fellowship (there are a lot of odd names in this book).
The university is quite a new one and the buildings had belonged to a local landowner originally and some of the previous generations of the Jory family had been rather strange. They now live nearby and it’s thought that there might be some treasure buried somewhere around Old Hall’s grounds. It turns out that the gorgeous Olivia is distantly related to the Jorys and she thinks that her branch of the family have been done out of the treasure – if indeed it exists.
One character is mentioned briefly twice – a deceased dotty Aunt Elizabeth who had apparently been under the impression that she was a barouche landau carriage! She spent her time attracting the attention of gentlemen she judged to be likely to be skilled with reins. What a scream, I so wish she had had a higher profile in this book.
I kept waiting for a crime to occur – as it’s a Penguin Crime paperback, but it never did.
Guest in the House by Philip MacDonald was first published in 1956 and it’s the first book by the author that I’ve read. He wrote under various names and he was one of the many men who took to writing thrillers/mysteries after serving in World War 1, but writing was obviously in his blood as his grandfather was the very successful Victorian Scottish author George MacDonald and his father Ronald was also a writer.
The setting is California where an Englishman who had been a Lieutenant Colonel in WW2 is so down on his luck that he decides he must visit an old wartime friend of his. He is driving a borrowed Alfa Romeo so on the surface Ivor Dalgleish St Pelham St George, V.C, D.S.O is very respectable and well to do looking, but in fact he has only a handful of dollars left to his name, hence the visit to his old friend, whose life he happened to save during the war. From the beginning the reader realises that he’s a con man.
Jeff Gould is very happy to see his old friend although his wife Mary isn’t so keen, but their house guest makes a best friend of the daughter/step daughter of the home so it’s two against one and she has to make him welcome.
There are tensions within the marriage though which is a second marriage for Mary and the strife is caused by Mary’s first husband Victor who is demanding to have more access to his young daughter. His daughter doesn’t know him at all, Mary is determined to keep her away from her ‘dodgy’ father who has tricked her into signing an unusual divorce/child access agreement. Victor has already squeezed $10,000 from the couple to stay away from them, and that has caused them a lot of financial problems and now Victor has come back for more money.
I’ll give this book three stars on Goodreads I think. It’s well enough written but I wasn’t comfortable with the plot which involves a decent couple being manipulated by two very unlikeable men. I’ll definitely try another of his books though if I come across any on my wanderings.
Suicide Excepted by Cyril Hare was first published in 1939 and it’s the first book by Cyril Hare that I’ve read. His real name was Alfred Gordon Clark and for his day job he was a judge, that must have given him plenty of ideas for his writing.
Inspector Mallett of the C.I.D. has just had a very disappointing lunch in the roadside hotel where he is having a short break. A brief chat of mutual commiseration with another guest on the poor food on offer leads to Mallett becoming a witness in a subsequent inquest.
Was it murder, an accident or suicide? A lot rests on the outcome and this one kept me guessing so I’ll definitely read more by this author.
Flowers for the Judge by Margery Allingham was first published in 1936 and I must say that I loved it. I think that Albert Campion’s character really improved in this one, in some of the earlier books he’s just too sketchy for my liking. It always seems to be Allingham’s The Tiger in the Smoke (1952) that people cite as Allingham’s best book but I wasn’t so impressed with that one.
Allingham dedicated this book to her publishers, presumably because the setting is a firm of publishers called Barnabas which has been going for generations and is now run by cousins. It’s a very conservative, old fashioned firm although years ago one of the directors had disappeared into thin air.
Twenty years on another director disappears although it’s some days before the alarm is raised by anyone. Paul is a bit of a strange person, married to Gina a much younger woman, an American, it’s a bit of a mystery why they married at all. The youngest partner is in love with Gina although she is completely oblivious of this fact. Campion gets involved in the mystery and with some twists and turns everything is satisfyingly sorted out.
Fogs were frequent menaces in cities in the UK at the time this book was written and Allingham describes one when she has a character saying:
‘As an American, Gina, you have a thrill coming to you. We are on the eve of a real old London particular, with flares in the streets, bus-conductors on foot leading their drivers over the pavements into plate glass windows, and blind beggars guiding city magnates across the roads for a small fee.
The title of the book comes from an old custom – judges carried a posy of flowers into the court to ward off gaol fever and nasty smells. You can read about it here. Obviously it was still being done in 1936 – at the Old Bailey anyway.
Death of a Ghost by Margery Allingham was first published in 1934 and it’s the sixth Albert Campion murder mystery, so fairly early in his career and for me that’s the problem with this book. As he matured Allingham wrote Campion as a much more interesting character than he was in his early days, he’s just too shadowy and one dimensional, I much prefer the older married Campion.
John Lafcadio was a great artist and he decided that to keep his name going as long as possible after his death he would paint several pictures to be unveiled after his death – one a year, beginning ten years after his death. I have to say that that is a great idea.
It’s the eighth unveiling of one of those paintings, so eighteen years after his death, and there are lots of famous people at the party, suddenly the lights go out – a shilling is needed for the electricity meter, and there’s a murder!
So begins Campion’s investigation, aided by Stanislaus Oates, but for me there’s just not enough of Campion and it’s all a bit predictable.
The Wooden Overcoat by Pamela Branch was first published in 1951 but my copy is a 1961 Penguin reprint. I had never heard of Pamela Branch before I came across this book but I’ll definitely be looking for more of her books. Sadly she only wrote four of them.
If you don’t like any comedy at all with your vintage crime then this book won’t be for you, but I found it to be an absolute hoot.
It begins with a murderer getting off with it, the jury has just brought in the verdict, but the reader knows that Benjamin Cann had indeed strangled his girlfriend. When he gets out of The Old Bailey he is befriended by Clifford Flush who takes him to his house in Chelsea, it turns out that it’s the headquarters of a ‘club’ and all of the members are murderers who have got off with it. For very good reasons they’re all very scared of each other.
The house next door is inhabited by two married couples who are house sharing, they’re all artists of some sort and have decided to start taking in lodgers. Benjamin Cann is their first lodger and it isn’t long before murders ensue, but not at all as you would expect.
This book has some wonderful characters and hilarious situations. It’s a real shame that it wasn’t made into a film by Ealing Comedies, along the same lines of The Ladykillers (1955), it would have been brilliant. The BBC have dramatised it for radio apparently but it isn’t available on the iplayer at the moment.
If you enjoy comedy along with your vintage crime then you’ll love this one. I was lucky enough to pick this one up for about £1 in a local shop but the ones I’ve seen on the internet are stupidly priced. Yet again I wonder if anyone ever buys these wildly priced books.
If you are wondering what I mean by The Ladykillers you can see it on You Tube below.
This is another book which I bought second-hand purely because it is a vintage Penguin crime book. I had never even heard of the author Jean Potts before I picked this one up. Jean Potts was born in St Paul, Nebraska but she moved to New York. In 1954 she wrote her first mystery novel Go, Lovely Rose for which she won an ‘Edgar’ award.
The Diehard was first published by Gollancz in 1956. On the Penguin cover it says: American small-town hatred makes murder a certainty.
Lew Morgan is the top dog in the small town of Turk Ridge, he has plenty of money and when old friends find themselves in need of financial help it’s Lew that they turn to.
But Lew had married for money, he didn’t love Olive but her father had been the one who ran everything in the town in his day and Lew just took over when Olive’s father died.
Lew is a domineering bully, in control of everything and everyone, under the impression that his family and friends all admire and love him, but his controlling behaviour has made just about everyone despise him.
This isn’t exactly a murder mystery but I did enjoy it and its surprising ending.