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

The Traveller Returns by Patricia Wentworth

The Traveller Returns cover

The Traveller Returns by Patricia Wentworth is a Miss Silver mystery and it was first published in 1948. As has often been said by many people – you can’t beat a vintage crime read when you’re in need of a respite from your own world. Not that there’s anything desperately wrong here at Pining but I’m just so fed up with the weather and this never ending winter. Snow again – and although that isn’t unusual at Easter in Scotland, it is unusual when we’ve had so much snow on and off since October.

Anyway, back to the book. The Traveller Returns cheered me up despite the weather. The setting is Britain in wartime. Philip Jocelyn’s wife Anne had died in the dark on a beach in Brittany while trying to escape Nazi France early in the war. Three years have passed since then and Philip has fallen in love with Lyndall who had been one of Anne’s bridesmaids.

But Anne turns up back in England and walks into her home – mink coat, pearls and all, she says that it was her cousin Annie Joyce who had died on the beach. Annie and Anne did look remarkably alike apparently but Philip isn’t convinced although everyone else is. He’s sure it was his wife Anne that he had had to bury quickly.

Enter Miss Silver, retired governess and now successful private detective, although you wouldn’t know that from her shabby appearance. All is well as she gets to the bottom of it all, whilst knitting up stockings and socks for Ethel’s husband and three little boys. A very enjoyable read.

Seven Dead by J. Jefferson Farjeon

seven dead

Seven Dead by J. Jefferson Farjeon was first published in 1939 but I read a British Library Crime Classics reprint with a rather attractive cover of a harbour and yachts.

The book begins with Ted Lyte a nervous first time burglar breaking into a remote house by the coast. It seems that the house is uninhabited so he decides to take a look around, hoping to find easily portable silver.

One of the rooms is locked, presumably it has something worth stealing inside it, but when he gains entrance he gets the shock of his life. In a panic Ted rushes out of the house but realises that someone is chasing after him. Shedding silver spoons as he goes Ted runs straight into a policeman and ends up being taken to the local police station, he’s a jibbering wreck.

Thomas Hazeldean was the pursuer and he had just come off his yacht, but it’s not long before he’s on it again and sailing for Boulogne where he hopes to get to the bottom of the mystery.

I had some problems with this one because although it’s not long at all before the crime takes place the whole thing seemed a bit too disjointed to me and unlikely. Farjeon tried to introduce witty dialogue between the police but it really didn’t work. It’s a bit of a locked room mystery, a bit missing person, a bit of vengeance, a bit of romance. In fact it’s just a bit too bitty for my liking. I could just be nit-picking though.

The Watersplash by Patricia Wentworth

 The Watersplashcover

The Watersplash by Patricia Wentworth was first published in 1954 and it’s a Miss Silver mystery. Wentworth is so skilled at conjuring up the atmosphere of a small English village, and the way that so many of the inhabitants are linked to each other – by blood, marriage and extended family friendships. Throw in a local telephone system where everybody has a party line and can listen in to their neighbour’s conversations and a huge capacity for gossip as a way of brightening up what is generally a boringly quiet life and you have a good recipe for a mystery.

Edward Random has just returned home to Greenings after a five year absence during which time his father (the local squire) believed him to be dead. Edward’s father had changed his will in favour of his brother Arnold, so his nose was very much out of joint when he realised his nephew was still alive. Everyone expects Arnold to give up his inheritance to Edward, but he has no intention of doing that, in fact he won’t have anything to do with his nephew.

Rumours abound – what has Edward been up to during his five years of absence? When there’s a murder in the village Miss Silver is asked to investigate. Luckily she had already been invited to stay at Greenings by the daughter of an old friend and it’s not long before she’s getting submerged in everybody’s business.

Whilst she knits a succession of pale pink baby vests she gets to the bottom of it all satisfactorily. I had a fair idea who the perpetrator was but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment. I really think I prefer Miss Silver to Miss Marple. I believe the two characters were ‘born’ in the same year. Patricia Wentworth just seems to have been unfortunate that Agatha Christie’s books were much more of a commercial success. Maybe Patricia Wentworth should have indulged herself with some sort of adventure that was taken up by the tabloid newspapers the way Christie did!

A Scream in Soho by John G. Brandon

A Scream in Soho cover

A Scream in Soho by John G. Brandon was first published in 1940 but my copy is a British Library Crime Classics reprint. It’s the first book that I’ve read by this author.

I got the impression that this book was written with the author’s tongue very much in his cheek. At times it’s just a bit daft and unlikely, but still entertaining. Detective Inspector McCarthy is quite a departure from the norm as he’s a Soho lad and had a very rough upbringing, that stands him in good stead though as he knows the types of thugs that live in the area and the sorts of things that they get up to.

It’s London’s Soho in wartime, so it’s dark and grim and there are a lot of Italian gangsters about and supposed Austrian refugees aren’t at all what they seem. There’s a murder early on – plenty of evidence but no body!

That exclamation mark of mine (I’m quite partial to them at times) is used by me as usual in a cheery and light-hearted fashion. I had to laugh when I read a Goodreads ‘review’ of this book by someone who was outraged by it, mainly because one of the chapter titles has an exclamation mark and the book is apparently homophobic, transgenderist, ableist (what is that? Prejudice against disabilities?) and a whole lot of other ‘ists’ and ‘ics’. Yet again I’m left wondering why people bother to read older books which aren’t likely to be as politically correct as most books are today. I suspect they’re looking for something to be outraged about!

John G. Brandon might not be one of the big hitters of crime fiction, but he did have a good sense of humour, and that led to this being an entertaining read.

Crimson Snow edited by Martin Edwards

Crimson Snow cover

Crimson Snow winter mysteries is a collection of vintage crime short stories edited by Martin Edwards. Reading this book gave me an opportunity to read a lot of vintage crime authors that I hadn’t read before.

The contributors are: Fergus Hume, Edgar Wallace, Margery Allingham, S.C. Roberts, Victor Gunn, Christopher Bush, Ianthe Jerrold, Macdonald Hastings, Julian Symons, Michael Gilbert and Josephine Bell.

Most of the stories are fairly short but the one by Victor Gunn is about seventy pages long so it’s really a novella and I don’t know if it’s because that one is longer – but I think it’s my favourite story. I’ll definitely be looking for more books by Victor Gunn anyway. I’ve seen a lot of his books on my travels but had no idea what they would be like and didn’t give them a go. No doubt now I won’t see any of his books in shops for yonks. That’s what happened to me with Dornford Yates, he was all over the place until Valerie said some of his books were good – and now they’ve disappeared after me being just about haunted by them previously.

I enjoyed this collection of short stories which are all set around winter/Christmas celebrations although the stories that I liked least were the ones by authors that I’ve read most. Margery Allingham and Macdonald Hastings disappointed me, maybe I just expected too much of them.

Published by British Library Crime Classics of course and the cover is taken from a vintage St Moritz travel poster. There’s a wee biography of each writer on the page before their story begins, which was interesting but I would have liked it if they had also added the date the story was originally published and which magazine it first appeared in. That’s me nit-picking though. This was perfect Christmas bedtime reading, why is murder and Christmas such a good combination?!

Envious Casca by Georgette Heyer

Envious Casca cover

Envious Casca by Georgette Heyer was first published in 1941.

I’ve read almost all of Georgette Heyer’s mystery novels now and I’ve enjoyed them all although some more than others. I like the witty dialogue, especially between couples. Envious Casca is set at Christmas and features Inspector Hemingway of Scotland Yard as the investigator who is called in when a member of the household of Lexham, a large Tudor house, is discovered dead in a locked room. To begin with it’s thought that the death is from natural causes but it isn’t long before the truth is discovered.

The house is full of members of the Herriard family who are gathered together for Christmas, and a few of their friends. They’re a very argumentative bunch and Nathaniel, the owner of the Lexham estate holds the purse strings.

Despite the fact that the murder was a long time a-coming I really enjoyed this one. It was fairly predictable, the culprit was easy to spot AND none of the characters are particularly likeable, so by rights I should have disliked the book a lot, but the mystery lies in how the murder was carried out and that kept my interest. Heyer obviously meant it to be like that, especially given the title of the book. The characters are a quirky bunch so it all added up to a good read.