Fire, Burn by John Dickson Carr

Fire, Burn is one of John Dickson Carr’s historical crime/mystery books. I did enjoy it.

It begins in the 20th century, the 1950s – but as Detective Inspector John Cheviot travels in a taxi to Scotland Yard he suddenly realises that he is in a horse drawn carriage and by the time he gets out of it he has been transported back to 1829, to the beginnings of the police service and the Bow Street Runners.

Bizarrely, everybody at Old Scotland Yard seem to know exactly who he is, and Cheviot can recognise the historical figures he meets there. When a murder takes place at a dance that Cheviot was attending he gets to work to solve the case.

This book was first published in 1957 and I think Dickson Carr must have enjoyed writing it as it combines murder mystery with history, which was obviously something which he took a real interest in.

At the end of the book there are a few pages headed Notes for the Curious. The second part of which is called Manners, Customs, Speech. He writes about a diary entry of a woman called Clarissa Trant, in 1829 she used the phrase Tell that to the Marines – with her own italics and meaning as we do now that, the thing which she has written about is not at all believable.

I love that sort of thing, often when I read something – a word or phrase jumps out at me as being anachronistic, you know how quickly slang words go out of fashion and seem completely dated when people keep using them after their ‘use by date’. So I was amazed but pleased to see that ‘tell that to the Marines’ was being used way back in 1829. I really thought that it was an American 20th century phrase, mainly because I remember one of Alistair Cooke’s Letters from America featuring the phrase, apparently someone, I can’t remember who, had had their arm twisted by the Nazis during World War 2 and the upshot was that they had to do a propaganda broadcast on the radio. They ended it with words something like: Tell that to the army, tell that to the navy and above all – tell that to the Marines!! Luckily the Germans didn’t see through it.

Such a shame that P.G. Wodehouse didn’t think of doing something like that when he was coerced into making broadcasts in Germany, it would have saved him such a lot of trouble after the end of the war. But then, Wodehouse seems to have been so slow witted that he didn’t even realise that what he was doing was being of help to the Nazis.

Anyway, back to the book, as I said – it was an enjoyable read although that being ‘wheeched’ back in time thing via an ordinary mode of transport does seem a wee bit cliched, but maybe it didn’t in 1957. The last Woody Allen film I watched began in exactly the same way, but I enjoyed that too!

The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart

This is the first book I’ve ever read on my Kindle. Yes I gave in at last and bought one, just because I want to be able to get out of print books and free classics. No I’m not a mean Scot – just canny!

Anyway it is also the first book that I’ve read by Mary Roberts Rinehart and I did enjoy it although it was first published in 1908 so it isn’t my favourite era of vintage crime – that’s the 1930s/40s – but still well worth reading if you like your crime fiction to be a bit of fun too.

Miss Innes is a wealthy woman who became the guardian of her young nephew and niece when their parents died. It’s years later and Gertrude and Halsey have grown up but they still want to spend the holidays with their aunt. They persuade her to rent a large old
house in the country and almost immediately scary things start happening. It’s all bangs and bumps in the night and I suppose it seems a bit cliched but I enjoyed the whole atmosphere of it.

Apparently The Circular Staircase was put on Broadway in 1920 and ran for years but for some reason it was called The Bat.

I downloaded it from girlebooks which is a wonderful site which Peggy at Peggy Ann’s Post told me about. It has loads of free books which I hope to read sometime, by authors like Willa Cather and Elizabeth von Arnim – too many to mention, have a look! I felt like it was Christmas when I saw it so a big thanks to Peggy for pointing me in its direction.

2010 Flashback Challenge: January

Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers.

It must be about 30 years since I first read this book and although it isn’t my favourite Sayers read, I think this is a good one to start with. It was written in 1930 and was her sixth murder mystery to be published.

It introduces us to the character of Harriet Vane. At the beginning of the book she is on trial for the murder of her ex-lover, who has been poisoned. Lord Peter Wimsey sees her in court and becomes interested in the case as he can’t believe that she is a murderer, although all the evidence points to her.

He takes on her case and during the course of his investigations he falls in love with Harriet making it all the more important that he can save her from the gallows.

Lord Peter owns a detective agency which is disguised as a typing bureau which is staffed by women who can infiltrate offices and companies which need to be investigated. The nickname for the bureau is ‘The Cattery’ and half in jest – half in earnest Lord Peter has compiled a list of rules for his employees. Rule 7 is:
Always distrust the man who looks you straight in the eyes. He wants to prevent you from seeing something. Look for it.

A very good maxim – I think.

The story line is autobiographical, telling of a disastrous previous relationship and although Dorothy’s lover wasn’t poisoned, she probably wished that he had been. She didn’t seem to have much luck with men and seems to have written the character of Lord Peter Wimsey to suit her perfect idea of a man. The character of Harriet Vane is very much based on Dorothy herself.

I enjoyed re-reading this book, but then I’m keen on things which are set in the 1920/30s. I started reading Dorothy Sayers books in the 1970s and in 1978, completely by coincidence we moved to Essex and the office window of my new workplace looked into what had been Dorothy Sayers back garden in Witham. She was long gone by then as she died in 1957.

I’ve also enjoyed viewing the various adaptations of her books over the years on the television.

Edward Petherbridge was perfect as the aristocratic detective and Harriet Walter seemed made for the part of Harriet Vane.

If you enjoy vintage murder mysteries you will probably enjoy this book.