It Walks by Night by John Dickson Carr

It Walks by Night cover

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!

Maybe you enjoyed this one, if so – do tell.

The crimson in the purple by Holly Roth

The crimson in the purple cover

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.

Excellent Intentions by Richard Hull

 Excellent Intentions cover

Excellent Intentions by Richard Hull is a British Library Crime Classics reprint which was first published in 1938.

This book begins with the prosecution in a murder case and so the reader discovers the ins and outs of the death of Henry Cargate – the wealthiest inhabitant of Great Barwick. He was a man who went out of his way to rub people up the wrong way and never missed a chance to throw his weight about and let people know just how well off he was.

During the prosecution and defence the reader has absolutely no idea who is in the dock being tried. I must say that very early on I guessed who the culprit was and I was feeling a bit miffed about it, but literally on the last page the author redeemed himself with an unusual twist, something that apparently Richard Hull made a habit of doing.

The book cover has been taken from a 1930s travel poster for Epping Forest in Essex. It looks lovely, but whenever I hear the words Epping Forest it reminds me that when I lived in Essex in the 1970s I was told that that was where the London gangsters buried the bodies!

The Colour of Murder by Julian Symons

 The Colour of Murder cover

The Colour of Murder by Julian Symons was first published in 1957 but British Library Crime Classics reprinted it in 2018. It has an introduction by Martin Edwards.

John Wilkins sort of drifted into marriage with May who came from a rough background and is a determined social climber, but as wives go – she’s cold and materialistic. Unfortunately John’s family’s wealth is in the past and he’s working in the complaints department of a department store in Oxford.

When John goes to the local library to change a library book he falls for Sheila the new young assistant, and becomes somewhat obsessed by her, almost immediately he’s wishing that May didn’t exist. John has given up just about everything that he enjoyed doing before he married May, she just wants to play bridge and disapproved of him being a member of the tennis club. Sheila is a member of the club so he starts playing tennis again and eventually gets a date with her, of course Sheila doesn’t know he’s married.

It’s all going to be very messy, but not in the way that most readers would have anticipated.

I’m not sure if it’s just that I’ve read too many vintage crime books recently or if this is a particularly predictable book, but I knew what was going on as soon as there was a murder – and that’s always a disappointment.

I was particularly annoyed because I read a book by Symons called Bloody Murder which is his thoughts on a lot of vintage crime fiction writers and he fairly tore into a few of them. He really didn’t rate Elizabeth Ferrars at all, but I think all of the books I’ve read by her have been better than this one. The cover is good though as ever from British Library Crime Classics. It has been taken from a 1930s holiday poster advertising the south-east of England holiday resort of Brighton in East Sussex.

The Homicidal Colonel by Robert Player

The  Homicidal Colonel cover

The Homicidal Colonel by Robert Player was first published in 1970 and my copy is a first edition Gollancz, I have no idea if it has been re-printed. It’s the first book I’ve read by the author and after I bought it I did question why I had bought a book – the title of which gives the murderer away, but it does work as crime fiction.

This one begins in 1956 but it isn’t long before the story goes back to 1912 and the 21st birthday party of the eldest daughter of the Pangbourne family. They’re a dysfunctional bunch, used to the best things in life as there’s a lot of money in the family. One of them doesn’t see why he should have to share the money with his siblings in the future when their parents are dead. He aims to eliminate the others, but along the way he gets a real taste for murder and branches out.

So although the reader always knows who the murderer is it’s interesting to discover how he’s tracked down and what made him tick. I quite enjoyed it.

The Poisoned Chocolates Case by Anthony Berkeley

The Poisoned Chocolates Case by Anthony Berkeley was first published in 1929 but I read the recent British Library Crime Classics reprint. It has an introduction by Martin Edwards.

The book begins at a gathering of the Crime Circle, a club for crime fiction writers, and Chief Inspector Moresby of Scotland Yard has gone there to ask the writers for their help. The Scotland Yard detectives are stumped over a case of murder by poisoning and Moresby hopes that the writers might be able to give them some new ideas as to who the culprit might be.

This of course involves each of the writers in turn explaining how they think the murder was committed and by whom. They all come up with different ideas of course, but which one is correct?

This isn’t my favourite style of writing as it can become a bit tedious at times with the constant repetition of facts in the case. I found myself being more interested in who the fictional detectives were based on in reality. I think that Dorothy L. Sayers was very easy to spot, but I’m not so sure about the other two female writers.

In 1979 the writer Christianna Brand wrote yet another solution to this murder puzzle and that chapter is included in this book, and Martin Edwards has the last word with his epilogue.

If you’re interested you can read about Anthony Berkeley in an interesting article by Martin Edwards here

Guest in the House by Philip MacDonald

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.

Death Makes a Prophet by John Bude

Death Makes a Prophet cover

Death Makes a Prophet by John Bude is another British Library Crime Classics book and it was first published in 1947. It has an introduction by Martin Edwards. I loved this one which kept me guessing right to the end.

The setting is one of the new ‘garden city’ towns which were set up post World War 2. Welworth Garden City is obviously a bit of a mash up between Welwyn Garden City (I lived there briefly in the 1970s) and Letchworth, both of them in Hertfordshire – southern England.

Welworth has the reputation of being a forward-thinking town which attracted people who were maybe a bit different from most – vegetarians, socialists and in particular people who were followers of unusual new religions. The cult of The Children of Osiris is one of the most popular religions and has attracted several thousand followers with many of them settling in Welworth.

The religion was founded by Eustace K. Mildman who of course made himself the High Prophet of the sect and has thought up lots of odd rites for the followers to take part in, and he has obviously profited from it. The whole religion is being bankrolled by a wealthy woman and there are jealousies and resentments amongst the followers.

Things come to a head which means that Inspector Meredith has to be called in to do his stuff. This is a great read with entertaining humorous touches now and again.

Cork in the Doghouse by Macdonald Hastings

  Cork in the Doghouse cover

Cork in the Doghouse by Macdonald Hastings was first published in 1957. This is the second book by him that I’ve read, I don’t think these books are all that easy to find which is a shame because I really like his investigator Montague Cork who is now heading the Insurance Company that he has worked in all his life. In this book he knows that he should be thinking about retiring soon but he finds it hard to even allow his underlings to get on with their work without him looking over their shoulders.

One of his staff has agreed to insure a dog for a large sum of money. Honey is a Staffordshire bull terrier and her owner died leaving all of his money to the dog, until Honey dies, then the money goes to the descendants of the dog owner. There’s obviously an incentive for Honey’s life to be cut short.

I enjoyed this one which shows Monatgue Cork to be a keen dog lover despite the fact that Honey is anything but bonnie. She has been used in the past for illegal dog fighting and so Cork gets involved in a murky underground world peopled by a rough and violent element, not what Cork is used to but that doesn’t faze him at all.

The Lake District Murder by John Bude

The Lake District Murder cover

The Lake District Murder by John Bude was first published in 1935, but I read the British Library Crime Classics reprint.

This book begins well with a murder almost immediately, just the way I like it, but Inspector William Meredith gets completely side-tracked by another mystery for most of the book. Bude seems to have modelled his writing style on that of Freeman Wills Crofts, but he ended up being more convoluted and detailed than FWC and it became very tedious.

He was so concerned with the plot that he made very little of the various characters, most of which are male. I longed for Mrs Meredith to make an appearance, but after a short but spirited spat with her husband the detective, she almost completely disappeared.

The lovely scenery of the Lake District barely gets a mention. John Bude seems to have assumed that his books would be read by men – and men who were just keen on calculations and measurements at that. I was really amused by this part though:

Wick expectorated with a mingled air of disdain and disgust and pulled out a packet of Woodbines. He had now completed the charging of the petrol tank and was leaning back against one of the pumps, watching the Inspector with ill-concealed impatience.

“Now look here, Wick,” said Meredith briskly. “I want to know something. What time did the Nonock lorry leave your garage last night?”

Wick slowly lit his cigarette, considering the point.

Health and Safety would go nuts if you lit up whilst leaning against a fuel pump nowadays!!

I found this book to be quite disappointing, but as usual the cover is a great one and it has been taken from a 1930s railway poster (LNER) advertising Ullswater English Lakeland, by the artist John Littlejohns.

Ullswater