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.
The Methods of Sergeant Cluff by Gil North was first published in 1961 but my copy is a British Library Crime Classics re-print. It has an introduction by Martin Edwards. This is the first book I’ve read by Gil North, I can’t say I’m wild about it, I think I’ll probably give it a three on Goodreads. It has occurred to me though that quite possibly the author wrote this book as part of the successful anti death penalty campaign that was going on in the early 1960s. It was a time when there had been several miscarriages of justice and the British juries became disinclined to bring in a guilty verdict for murder, in case they got it wrong.
The setting is a small town on the edge of the Yorkshire moors, it’s a wet night and a young woman’s body is found face down on a cobbled street. Jane Trundle had been an assistant in a chemist’s shop.
There’s only one CID man in the division, Sergeant Cluff, a typical rough no nonsense North of England man, independent and stubborn. He’s a bit of a loner and his colleagues seem to resent his previous successes.
The whole town seems to think that the culprit is a young man who has held a torch for the victim for ages, his horror of the whole situation just makes matters worse, but Cluff is determined to investigate properly.
The trouble with this one is that Cluff seems like such a stereotype detective, along the lines of Morse and many other such mavericks, but maybe he didn’t seem such a cliche in the early 1960s.
I love the front cover though, it has been taken from a British Rail Yorkshire Dales travel poster. I love that style.
I’ve read and enjoyed a lot of Patricia Wentworth’s Miss Silver books but Rolling Stone (first published in 1940) is the first book that I’ve read of hers which isn’t a Miss Silver mystery. I was on a ferry sailing to Belgium when I started reading this one and coincidentally Rolling Stone begins in Belgium.
Peter Talbot has just booked into a hotel in Brussels and he realises that the man in the room next to his is in a very bad way. Spike Reilly is feverish and delirious and it’s obvious that he’s dying. Peter Talbot is intrigued by some of the things he has heard him say and despite the fact that he is on an assignment for his uncle – Frank Garrett of the Foreign Office – on the spur of the moment Peter decides to change identity with Reilly, swapping over passports and following clues that lead to a grand country house in England where a painting is stolen.
More crimes pile up and the search for Maud Millicent Simpson – England’s most deadly woman – is on. The only problem is that as she’s a master/mistress of disguise, nobody knows what she looks like.
The Z Murders by J. Jefferson Farjeon was first published in 1932, but I read a 2015 British Crime Library Classics reprint which has an introduction by Martin Edwards.
I enjoyed this one, but not as much as his Mystery in White. Farjeon has a lovely turn of phrase at times, but towards the end of this book I began to feel that a major character was just too bizarre for words.
Again, a railway journey features in the story, I wonder if that was a bit of a motif where his writing was concerned. Not that I’m complaining because I think that a train instantly sets the scene for vintage crime.
Richard Temperley is travelling overnight by train from the north of England to Euston in London. Of course those overnight trains always get into London at crazily early times of the morning, it’s too early for Temperley to travel on to his sister’s house so he decides to spend some hours resting in a nearby hotel’s smoking-room.
The man that shared Temperley’s train compartment also ends up in the same smoking-room. He had ruined Temperley’s sleep through constant snoring so when Temperley realises that the man is no longer snoring he checks on him, sure enough – he’s dead – shot. The police are called and so begins a chase around the country from London to Bristol and back north again. In fact they were travelling along a road that I knew well, that’s always a plus for me.
But towards the end the storyline became very unlikely and I would say just about impossible. I think the author got fed up writing and just wound it up.
It’s still worth reading though and if possible I would give it a 3.5 on Goodreads.
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 Gazebo by Patricia Wentworth was first published in 1958 and my copy was published that year and even has the dust jacket – what a find!
I really enjoyed this one although the murder does take quite a while to take place. Althea Graham is a woman in her mid twenties and she is at her ghastly mother’s beck and call all day every day. Her mother is supremely self-centred and is determined to keep her daughter at home running around after her mother who has a ‘heart attack’ every time it looks like she might not get her way about something.
Five years previously Althea had been all set to get married but her mother had put a stop to it. Now her ex-fiance is back, but it looks like life is never going to be easy for them, with murder and mystery blighting their future.
Luckily Althea is able to contact Miss Silver, they are connected loosely through an old friend. She’s the equivalent of the cavalry riding to your aid! AND she does it all whilst knitting a pink vest for a baby girl.
I know that lots of bloggers have been reading The Santa Klaus Murder by Mavis Doriel Hay and because I have a copy of it and intended to read it around about Christmas time I didn’t read any of their reviews, so I have no idea what they thought of it.
I have to say that although I fairly happily read the book right to the end I was very disappointed by the story because the culprit turned out to be who I thought it might be almost from the very beginning.
I found the whole book to be very predictable. I’ve read quite a few of these British Crime books this year, some have been good but with others the best bit has definitely been the cover art. Speaking of which, I really like the cover of this one. I’d be quite happy to move into that house.
What about you, have you read The Santa Klaus Murder and were you disappointed by it too?
Crime at Christmas by C.H.B. Kitchin was first published in 1934. I had never read anything by this author before so had no idea what to expect. I ended up enjoying this book, the author is quite witty, but there is a real sense of deja vu and plus ca change as one of the main characters is a stockbroker and just as now stockbrokers and bankers weren’t exactly admired. Yes it seems that nothing ever does change for the better in this world of ours.
It’s a murder mystery set in a large house but not in the country, in fact Beresford Lodge backs on to Hampstead Heath in London, one of several large houses in the area although the nearest one is empty and derelict.
Malcolm Warren, a stockbroker, has been invited to spend Christmas there, it’s a party of close friends and relatives. During a silly party game Malcolm trips up and badly hurts an arm and wrist, the shock makes him sick and after being looked at by a doctor Malcolm takes to his bed.
He’s in for an even nastier shock though as during the night a body has landed on his room’s balcony and so begins the mystery.
I enjoyed this book although I think it did rely too much on coincidence. At the end of the story there is a question and answer section where the author explains any questions that a reader might have about it. It wraps up any loose ends.
The blurb on the back says:
‘Kitchin’s knowledge of the crevices of human nature lifts his crime fiction out of the category of puzzledom and into the realm of the detective novel. He was, in short, ahead of his time.’ H.R.F. Keating
The Listening Eye by Patricia Wentworth is a Miss Silver mystery and it was first published in 1957.
Miss Paulina Paine is 57 years old and she has been stone deaf ever since a bomb fell very close to her during the war. Paulina taught herself lip-reading very successfully and she hopes it isn’t obvious to people that she is deaf.
However, one of her lodgers is an artist and he has painted her portrait which is being exhibited in a gallery. The artist has titled the portrait The Listener and Paulina has to admit to herself that he has captured an expression on her face that she recognises.
Whilst at the exhibition Paulina lip reads a man who is standing quite far away from her, he thinks that his conversation will be private, never suspecting that a lip-reader was ‘eavesdropping’ on him.
Paulina is aghast at what he has said and quickly leaves the gallery, but when a gallery worker mentions to the man that Paulina is a marvellous lip-reader it puts Paulina’s life at risk. She has inadvertently obtained dangerous information.
As it happens Paulina has a loose connection with Miss Silver and she goes to ask her advice on what she has ‘overheard’. So begins Miss Silver’s involvement in the investigation.
As ever I don’t want to say too much about this one as I don’t want to spoil it for any possible readers, but it’s a good mystery and Miss Silver sorts it all out, whilst knitting a pale blue shawl, multi tasking with class.
The Factory on the Cliff by A.G. MacDonell was first published in 1928 but it has been reprinted by Fonthill Media. Originally this book was published under MacDonell’s pseudonym Neil Gordon. MacDonell is best known for his book England, Their England. Published in 1933 it’s a satirical comedy on English society and its eccentricities. It won the James Tait Black Award in 1933.
The Factory on the Cliff is written very much in the style of John Buchan, in other words a sort of ‘boys own adventure story’. The story begins with George Templeton on a golfing holiday in Aberdeen, Scotland but when he damages his thumb while using the starting crank on his car it means he can’t golf. He’s the sort of chap who hates walking, unless he happens to be whacking a wee ball along as he goes.
Desperate for some exercise he is forced to take a walk and comes across a group of men acting suspiciously. They’re looking for something but claim that they aren’t. Later George finds a type of Mills bomb (grenade) in the undergrowth and realises that that is what they were looking for.
I think that this sort of adventure tale was very popular when it was first published, especially amongst the many men who would have been involved in the First World War. It involves germ warfare and scientists and Scotland Yard does get involved albeit at a distance. The characters had all been soldiers and in some way it was something that they missed, as apparently men did. There’s only one female character and she is there as a bit of eye candy for the men.
I must admit that I’m happier reading the country house sort of murder mystery but I still enjoyed this book. I also love the cover, very much of its time, but I’m not so enamoured with the size of the book, one of those larger format ones which is just not going to fit on the shelf where I have the rest of my vintage crime books. Annoying.
Archibald Gordon MacDonell was born in India but he regarded himself as a Scotsman so this one counts towards the Read Scotland 2016 Challenge.