Murder By Matchlight by E.C.R. Lorac was first published in 1945 but was reprinted by British Library in 2018.
It’s London 1945 and this story begins in a very dark Regent’s Park where 30 year old Bruce Mallaig is pleased to be, pre-war he wouldn’t have been able to visit the park after hours, but now there are no railings and locked gates to keep anyone out, the metal railings have been removed to be melted down to make aeroplanes (supposedly a morale/doing your bit thing but in reality they weren’t used for the war effort) but it seems that the park might be the venue for clandestine meetings. A sudden flare of light from a match shows Bruce that there are two men near him and in no time one of them has been murdered, knocked on the head. But Bruce hadn’t heard anything at all.
Chief Inspector MacDonald is heading the investigation and it turns out to be a difficult one as even the murder victim’s identity is a puzzle.
These British Library reprints can be a wee bit hit and miss but I really enjoyed this one with its very atmospheric wartime setting and unusual characters.
It’s that time again, how quickly Bookshelf Travelling in Insane Times comes around. This meme was created by Judith at Reader in the Wilderness but I’m hosting it at the moment. Click on it to enlarge the photo.
This week the bookshelf is in a bookcase (Ikea Billy, so many of us seem to have at least one) which is in my reading/sewing/hobby/ironing room which is located in the smallest spare bedroom in our house. It’s very fair to say that it’s generally in a bit of a mess as I just have too much yarn, fabric and stuff in general.
It’s a shelf of vintage crime, it’s just a coincidence that the beginning of the shelf houses Elizabeth Ferrars books and the end of the shelf is home to Josephine Tey books, both Scottish writers who wrote murder mysteries. In between them is the very English Dorothy L. Sayers and the very American Rex Stout, I find his books are very thin on the ground in secondhand bookshops in Scotland, but I’ve really enjoyed the ones I’ve managed to get a hold of. Of those four authors Josephine Tey is my least favourite. Dorothy Sayers I love and I’ve really enjoyed the Elizabeth Ferrars books that I’ve read.
Are you Bookshelf Travelling this week? I’ll add any links below.
A Bluestocking Knits
A Son of the Rock
The Big Sleep is the first book by Raymond Chandler that I’ve read but I’ll definitely be tracking down his others. This book was first published in 1939 and it’s the first book which features the private investigator Philip Marlowe. I must have seen the 1946 film of the book umpteen times, if I see it’s on TV I’ll always watch it again if possible, I’m a Bogart and Bacall fan.
Marlowe is hired by General Sternwood to track down whoever is blackmailing his daughter Carmen. Sternwood is wheelchair-bound and obviously a very ill man, he has two daughters and they’re both spoiled, the youngest Carmen is really out of control. The eldest daughter Vivian is married, but her husband is missing which is also a worry to Sternwood as he got on well with his son-in-law. Vivian is addicted to gambling, playing roulette.
Marlowe’s investigation uncovers a world of gangsters, gun-runners, pornographers and murderers. The plot is great but the writing is even better – honestly I had no idea that Chandler was such a good writer. I love that he describes everything and everyone, but manages to avoid overdoing it somehow. Writing the screenplay must have been a fairly easy task as Chandler had already written all the action and dressed all the actors. Add to that Marlowe’s dry wit and classiness, this book is a very entertaining read.
I was really surprised to read that Chandler went to school in England and even joined the British civil service. In 1917 he joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force and fought in France with the Gordon Highlanders.
Checkmate to Murder by E.C.R. Lorac was first published in 1944 but has been reprinted by British Library Crime Classics who kindly sent me a copy to review. It’s just the second book by the author that I’ve read but I’ll definitely read more as I enjoyed it. I read her book Fell Murder last year.
The setting is London during World War 2 and Lorac makes a great job of evoking the foggy and dank atmosphere of the city. In Hampstead an artist Bruce Manaton and his sister Rosanne are renting a large studio, they also live there and their ancient and miserly landlord lives next door. Rosanne is a bit of a doormat, supporting her brother and putting up with his moods and as the mystery begins she’s cooking supper for her brother and two friends who are playing a game of chess while Bruce paints a portrait of an actor who is dressed as a cardinal.
Rosanne is constantly worried about money and is afraid that if their windows aren’t screened properly and show a chink of light then the special constable will fine them £5, they’ve had trouble in the past with him. But when there’s a commotion at the front door it’s the special constable who has a young soldier in custody, he claims that the soldier has just committed a murder.
Inspector Macdonald of Scotland Yard is called in to sort things out, but it’s not an easy task as everyone has an alibi.
E.C.R. Lorac lived in London throughout the war which no doubt went a long way to making the setting seem so authentic, you can just about smell the fog. Lorac also wrote under the name Carol Carnac, Lorac is obviously Carol backwards, but she was born Edith Caroline Rivett and wrote a lot of Golden Age mysteries.
Corpses in Enderby by George Bellairs was first published in 1954 and I read it on my Kindle, the first time I had used my Kindle for ages because I much prefer actual books, for one thing you can flick through them easily to remind yourself of details, and put bits of paper in the pages. I did use the notes bit on my Kindle but now can’t get into them! Modern life – huh.
Anyway Corpses in Enderby if I’m recalling correctly more or less begins in a pub in a small English town where there’s a bit of a ‘stooshie’ because a local businessman Ned Bunn has refused to help one of his neighbours who has a dying wife and needs some money. Ned Bunn is obviously not a good guy and the neighbour swears he’ll kill him. When Bunn leaves the pub to walk across the road to his ironmonger’s shop and home he’s furious to discover his daughter and shop assistant having a bit of a canoodle. The widowed Ned Bunn is determined to keep his daughter a spinster so that she can look after him, he has seen off her previous boyfriends. As he throws the poor man out into the street there’s a huge bang and Ned Bunn is dead, but who did it?
The local police waste no time in calling in Scotland Yard in the shape of Inspector Littlejohn and his assistant Cromwell. It turns out that the Bunn family is a big one and they’re all obsessed with money and Ned Bunn had been the top of the pile. In fact there is more than a baker’s dozen of Bunns and also an awful lot of other characters with names beginning with ‘B’, it’s a bit bizarre!
I enjoyed this one, there’s more murder, quite a lot of snarky humour and some entertaining female characters. I really like Inspector Littlejohn and his side-kick Cromwell so I’ll look out for more of these books. I got this ebook free from the George Bellairs Estate. Thank-you.
The Case of the Famished Parson by George Bellairs was first published in 1949.
Detective Inspector Tom Littlejohn of Scotland Yard and his wife have gone to the Cape Mervin Hotel on the north west coast of England for rest and recuperation, but it is not to be as it isn’t long before another guest, Dr James Macintosh, the Bishop of Greyle’s body is discovered. He has been battered on the back of his head and pushed over a cliff. The post mortem reveals that the bishop’s body was emaciated. The bishop’s wife has no idea why her husband had left their room late in the night after he received a phone call, it seems a rather strange relationship.
Littlejohn gets to work investigating. There are a number of dodgy seeming characters who are also guests at the hotel, but things really get going when Littlejohn delves into the background of the bishop and his wife. There are lots of local connections and Littlejohn himself becomes a target.
I enjoyed this one, there’s quite a bit of humour in it and I find that vintage crime just hits the spot at the moment.
Out of the Past by Patricia Wentworth was first published in 1955 and it’s a Miss Silver mystery.
James Hardwick and his wife Carmona are living in an old house on the south coast which James has inherited from an uncle. It’s an ugly place and they hope to sell it soon, but as it’s a very hot summer they have several house guests staying with them, then another one unexpectedly turns up.
Alan Field had been engaged to Carmona in the past but he had left her standing waiting for him at the altar, and she hadn’t seen him again. He obviously expects to stay at the house, but James isn’t going to allow that to happen and Alan is dispatched to a boarding house nearby.
When murder ensues there’s a plethora of suspects and Miss Silver who is having a holiday with her niece and staying at the boarding house ends up sorting it all out of course.
I really liked this one and as ever I appreciated the updates on Maud Silver’s knitting projects. She knitted a pink coatee for a baby and matching bootees, her knitting obviously helps her to relax and think through all the clues to the mysteries. What a woman!
Hide My Eyes by Margery Allingham was first published in 1958 and the title in the US is Tether’s End or Ten Were Missing.
After trudging through this book I’m left wondering – Was it me – or was it the book? For me Allingham’s books can be quite curate’s eggish – in other words good in parts. Everyone seems to really rate this one and I just didn’t like it much at all. It’s supposedly one of her Albert Campion books but he’s even more shadowy than usual in this book. The best I can say of it is that it’s atmospheric of 1950s London.
There’s a serial killer around and Campion has been asked to help out with the investigation.
What annoyed me more than anything was the copious references to the actual serial killer John Haigh who operated during the 1940s as the murderer was copying his methods – hardly innovative! I’m left thinking that Allingham knew she would be likely to be criticised for using the same modus operandi as John Haigh so decided the best thing to do would be completely up front and open about it.
I read two duff books in a row, this one and The Rider of the White Horse – things can only get better – I hope.
The White Cottage Mystery by Margery Allingham was first serialised in the Daily Express in 1927 and was published as a book the following year. I read a Bloomsbury Reader paperback which I borrowed from the library.
I’ve previously only read Allingham’s Campion books which I do generally enjoy, especially the later ones, but I liked this one even more and it’s a shame that she didn’t write more books featuring Inspector Challenor of Scotland Yard, with his son Jerry as his side-kick. This one begins just as I like with the murder being committed very early on.
Jerry is driving along a Kentish road, enjoying the change from London when he turns into a good Samaritan, offering a lift to a young woman who is struggling with a large basket having just got off a bus with it. He drops her off at the White Cottage which is situated close to an ugly vast pile of a private house. As Jerry is in conversation with the local policeman they hear a loud gunshot and so begins the mystery.
The victim is Eric Crowther, owner of the ugly house, but it seems that despite there being lots of people around within the two houses, nobody can give any information as to how Crowther ended up shot in the White Cottage and certainly nobody is sorry to see the back of him. There’s an embarrassment of riches suspect-wise and as Jerry has fallen for the young lady that he helped, he’s worried that she is involved in the murder.
This book certainly doesn’t read like the first effort at a murder mystery that it is, and I really liked the relationship between Inspector Challenor and his son Jerry.
Bloomsbury has chosen to go down the same route as the British Crime Classics Library and based the book cover on the vintage railway poster below, although it seems to have been slightly changed by Emma Ewbank.