Death of a Ghost by Margery Allingham

Death of a Ghost cover

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

The Wooden Overcoat cover

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.

The Diehard by Jean Potts

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.

Murder on Leave by G.V. Galwey

G.V. Galwey is another author I had never heard of before, Murder on Leave is a vintage Penguin crime book, published in 1946.

The setting is the Scottish Highlands where the body of a young woman has been found at the bottom of a railway embankment. It’s the body of a young V.A.D. who was the daughter of a prominent local landowner, Sir Alexander MacGregor. He has been suspected of having Nazi sympathies and had recently quarrelled with his daughter, Gruach. Yes that’s right Gruach, the murder victim had been given the same first name as Lady Macbeth.

It’s Inspector Bourne of Scotland Yard who is investigating the murder and there are plenty of suspects, including German prisoners of war who have escaped from the local prisoner of war camp. By coincidence one of those prisoners had been known to the MacGregor’s before the outbreak of war.

Despite the Scottish wartime setting somehow this one didn’t quite hit the spot for me. At times I found my mind wandering as I read. I don’t know if that was because of me or the book. I will give this author another go though if I ever do fall over any more of his books. I think I bought this one in Edinburgh but G.V. Galwey didn’t write many books and they seem to be quite difficult to get a hold of and expensive, on the internet anyway. I know I didn’t pay much for this one though.

If you want to see what the author looked like have a keek here.

Murder, Maestro, please by Delano Ames

Murder Maestro please cover

I had never even heard of Delano Ames when I picked up this book in a secondhand bookshop in St Andrews, and neither had the shop owner. As you would expect from someone with Delano as a first name he was American, you can read about him here.
It’s a vintage Penguin Crime, and I can’t resist them.

First published in 1952 this book features a husband and wife sleuthing team in the shape of Dagobert Brown and his wife Jane. As characters I loved them both and especially enjoyed what was a witty and realistic husband and wife relationship.

The setting is the Pyrenees where the Browns are travelling on a tandem, an enthusiasm of Dagobert’s, Jane is less enamoured. They are on their way to meet up with friends at an hotel and then attend the Puig d’Aze Musical Festival. When they realise that someone is shooting and one of the shots almost hits them they’re understandably worried. Was it just a stray hunter’s bullet, were they the targets or was the driver of the red Bugatti which passed them the target? Dagobert is determined to get to the bottom of it.

It’s all go and I was surprised more than once at the turn of events, so as usual I don’t want to say too much about the storyline.

Suffice to say that the blurb on the back of the book says:

‘If there is a more engaging couple in modern fiction than Jane and Dagobert Brown, we have not met them.’
– Scotsman newspaper.

The Content Assignment by Holly Roth

I hadn’t even heard of Holly Roth before I spotted one of her vintage Penguin crime books at the Edinburgh St Andrew’s and St George’s booksale. I find that very few Penguin crime books turn up at sales so I usually snap up any that I see.

This book was first published in 1954 but it’s 1948 when the story begins. Terrant is an Englishman working as a journalist in Berlin, he took up that career after spending four years in the infantry during the war, before being wounded. Berlin is an exciting place to be for a 32 year old bachelor like himself but when he meets Ellen Content he realises that he has found THE ONE.

Unfortunately she disappears after just a few days, and it seems to be linked with nefarious Cold War activities. Two years later Terrant sees her name printed in The Times. It says – “Among the other passengers is Miss Ellen Content of New York, who after a brief stay in England, is returning to America to fill a series of dancing engagements.” Apparently Ellen had sailed on the Queen Elizabeth and Terrant had to follow the lead.

I enjoyed this Cold War thriller and I’ll read more of her books if I ever find any, but I am a complete cynic and really had to suspend my disbelief at the thought of a hard bitten reporter immediately falling in love and pining for years for a woman he had only met a few times. But that’s probably just me, I have very little of the romantic in me, which is a jolly good thing, and I’m sure that’s why we’ve stayed married for nearly 37 years!

Take Two at Bedtime

The American version of this book seems to be Deadly Duo, why do they give books in the UK and the US different titles, I can’t help thinking that they hope we will end up buying the same book twice.

Anyway, the two taken at bedtime are novellas, or long short stories if you prefer. The first one is called – Wanted: Someone Innocent and this one was my favourite. It’s set in London where a young penniless woman, Gillian Brayton, who has no family is trying to earn her living making hats, but she has realised that she has no talent for the work.

Whilst at a school reunion she gets an offer of another job, as a sort of housekeeper/secretary for an old schoolfriend who seems to have married very well. And so the mystery begins!

Last Act, the second novella didn’t appeal to me so much, mainly because I disliked Madame Zoffany, who was a bit of a diva but apparently everyone ended up adoring her, no matter how bad her behaviour was. Well that everyone didn’t include me but apart from that I felt that there were just too many characters, but that might be because I haven’t been able to concentrate much on my reading recently. The blurb says that – this is a fascinating study of personalities, as well as an absorbing mystery.

The Demoniacs by John Dickson Carr

The Demoniacs

I bought this book quite recently at a charity shop I think and I was quite disappointed when I realised that this is one of Dickson Carr‘s historical whodunnits, set in London in 1757. The 1930s/40s and 50s are really my favourite crime settings, it’s all those steam trains and Austin Healys that I love. It was first published in 1962.

But I thoroughly enjoyed The Demoniacs which is a great mixture of murder and romance. Jeffrey Wynne is a sort of under cover Bow Street Runner, he has already saved Peg Ralston, a beautiful young heiress from a fate worse than death in a so called high class French brothel. On getting Peg back to London Jeffrey discovers that she is in even worse danger there, can he come to her rescue again?

Dickson Carr uses real historical figures such as Laurence Sterne the author of Tristram Shandy, and John Fielding, the famous ‘blind beak’ who set up the Bow Street Runners.

The whole atmosphere feels right, Dickson Carr must have done a lot of reaearch about the period, the only thing which grated slightly was one minor character at the beginning who kept saying things like ‘split my bottom’ – it reminded me of the silly ass character in Blackadder played by Hugh Laurie.

The new Sonia Wayward by Michael Innes

The new Sonia Wayward

I’ve been meaning to participate in the Crime Fiction Alphabet hosted by Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise, for weeks now, but somehow I was always just too late. Anyway, here I go now, this week’s letter is N and I’ve read a Michael Innes book which was first published in 1960.

The new Sonia Wayward is an unusual book because there are no really likeable characters in it, which for me anyway is usually a real turn off in a book but this one manages to overcome that huge disadvantage.

It begins with the very sudden death of Colonel Ffolliot Petticate’s wife, Sonia Wayward, whilst they are out sailing in their small yacht. It’s a financial disaster for her husband as Sonia was earning the money as a writer of very popular fiction. The colonel is retired from the army and only has a small pension to live on.

After imbibing a large quantity of whisky to settle his nerves, he decides to dispose of Sonia overboard, with the intention of telling everyone that she is travelling, it’s important to pretend that she’s still alive, so that he can continue to live his very comfortable life. He takes on the task of finishing Sonia’s latest novel and fends off all inquiries as to Sonia’s whereabouts.

At the beginning the Colonel decides to keep the lies and deceit to the minimum, but they multiply like crazy and he finds himself in a very sticky situation when his live-in servants become suspicious as to the fate of their employer.

That’s really just the bare bones of the book as I don’t like to say too much about crime fiction, but this book is absolutely full of twists and turns from the very beginning and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Michael Innes was born in Edinburgh in 1906, was educated at Edinburgh University and Oriel College, Oxford and went on to become a Professor of English at various universities. He had a very long writing career which you can read about here. He also wrote under his real name, J.I.M. Stewart, and those books are also well worth reading.

The Mystery Mile by Margery Allingham

Time for some more vintage crime which for some strange reason is always a comfort read. Margery Allingham came from a family of writers and she started her writing career at the age of eight, but was nineteen when she had her first book published. This one was first published in 1930 and it’s the second book by Allingham featuring Albert Campion as the ‘detective’ and the character is developing nicely. I wasn’t sure about him to begin with but he’s growing on me. It was Allingham’s American publishers who were keen that she kept him as a character. I read somewhere that Campion was Allingham’s parody of the Dorothy Sayers aristocratic detective, Lord Peter Wimsey, who I think is a sort of love him or hate him character.

Anyway, the story begins on a ship which has sailed from New York and is bound for England. An American called Crowdy Lobbett is one of the passengers, along with his adult son and daughter. There have been several attempts on retired judge Crowdy Lobbet’s life recently which have ended up with his companions being the victim. There have been four people murdered in his house in the last month. He’s hoping to be able to escape from his enemies in England.

It’s a vain hope because there’s another attempt on Judge Lobbett’s life whilst on the ship and it’s Albert Campion who saves him. Marlowe Lobbett, the son, ends up asking Campion for help and when they get to England the Lobbett family rents an old country house and it isn’t long before Judge Lobbett disappears from it.

As usual, Albert Campion provides quite a bit of humour as he poses as an upper class twit, and his servant the ex-burglar Lugg adds to it too. There’s quite a bit of cockney in it which I sometimes had to read twice before I got the meaning of it but other than that it’s an enjoyable read.