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.
The Blind Side by Patricia Wentworth was published in 1939 and was the first of three Inspector Lamb books that she wrote. The setting is London where Ross Craddock has inherited what had been the family mansion, but years ago it had been divided up into numerous flats, some of which his father had given to other relatives to live in. But Ross is a bit of a ‘bad hat’ and when his cousin Lucy has the temerity to speak to him about his behaviour he takes the first opportunity to put her out of her flat. The elderly spinster is shocked, as are other members of the family.
When Ross comes to grief there’s no shortage of culprits and some of those under suspicion aren’t at all sure of their own movements on the fatal night.
I really liked this one. There’s plenty of tension and suspense, some very good characters, some wonderfully awful characters and Inspector Lamb and his side-kick Abbott were a nice change from Miss Silver.
I read this book on my Kindle which I hadn’t used for ages and I have no idea how I got this book although I do know that I got it free from somewhere, but it has been reissued by Dean Street Press and has a very interesting introduction. I hadn’t realised until I read it that Wentworth was of Scottish extraction although that might not have been obvious to non-Scots, however there are lots of Scottish surnames in her background. I also noticed at least twice the use of the Scots word dreep.
One thing that annoyed me though was that she used the word waked a lot when woken would have been much more literate, waked is just wrong.
Death of a Busybody by George Bellairs is a book that I’ve had for some time and I just realised last week that for some reason I hadn’t read it, I usually read these British Library Crime Classics as soon as I get them. George Bellairs was the nom de plume of Harold Blundell a bank manager in Heywood, Rochdale.
Miss Tither lives in the village of Hilary Magna and she sees it as her duty to keep all the villagers on the straight and narrow. It’s presumed that she spends her time creeping around in the dark, keeking in at windows, gathering information on her neighbours, with a view to haranging them about any perceived misdemeanours, almost always of the sexual kind. Don’t go courting in the woods when she’s around as she’ll be demanding that you and your ‘click’ get married, and handing you a religious tract! As you can imagine she’s a very unpopular woman, so when she ends up dead, obviously murdered, there’s no obvious culprit.
Enter Inspector Littlejohn of Scotland Yard. He has been a bit of a countryman in the past and he understands the ways of a small village and the sometimes oddly matched couples. This book is a lot more than a simple murder mystery and for me it’s always a big plus that the original victim is so nasty as to be almost deserving of their end.
The book was first published in 1942 but there’s not an awful lot of the wartime ambience in it. In fact there is a very popular tearoom mentioned, a place where ‘ladies lunch’ and the descriptions of all the (unlikely) wonderful goodies available to eat there did make me think of those lists of almost certainly unobtainable edibles that pop up in many books of those rationed days, such as the Enid Blyton midnight feasts and the C.S. Lewis Narnia books with groaning tables full of food, and of course not forgetting someone selling their soul for some Turkish Delight! I suppose if you couldn’t obtain the goodies to eat the next best thing is to dream up that you can have them, wishful thinking.
Anyway, I enjoyed this one, and the cover which comes from a British Railways 1930s advert for Suffolk.
I’ve been away for four days, travelling around in the north-east of England and seeing the sights, before we need a passport to visit England, but I didn’t see as many sights as I would have liked to – so I’ll be back to see the Roman sites next time. I didn’t get an awful lot of reading done while I was down there but I did finish …
SILENT NIGHTS Christmas Mysteries edited by Martin Edwards was published in 2015 and it’s a compilation of fifteen short stories which all have a Christmas theme. There’s a short biography of each of the writers before their contribution to the book begins, they were interesting and informative. I had no idea that Marjorie Bowen also wrote under the names Joseph Shearing, George R. Preedy, John Winch and Robert Paye. She has two stories in this collection.
I found Cambric Tea that she wrote as Marjorie Bowen to be quite chilling. A wealthy man believes that he is being poisoned by his much younger wife, but all is not as it seems.
She wrote The Chinese Apple under the name of Joseph Shearing. A successful woman has to travel to London from her home in Italy after her sister dies leaving a young daughter who may need some attention from her reluctant aunt. Returning to the family home is an ordeal for the aunt who had been living in Florence. London is dingy and dirty and the house holds bad memories for her, things go from bad to worse as she realises that there has been a murder in the house across the road.
I had already read The Necklace of Pearls by Dorothy L. Sayers so didn’t bother re-reading it as I remember that I wasn’t too impressed by it, which is strange as I’m really quite a Sayers fan. I think in general though this is a really good collection. I don’t think much of the cover design though, which is surprisingly dull in my opinion, maybe there is a shortage of Christmas linked vintage designs. This cover was designed by Chris Andrews and isn’t one of his best book covers.
The Blue Carbunkle by Arthur Conan Doyle
Parlour Tricks by Ralph Plummer
A Happy Solution by Raymund Allen
The Flying Stars by G.K. Chesterton
Stuffing by Edgar Wallace
The Unknown Murderer by H.C. Bailey
The Absconding Treasurer by J.Jefferson Farjeon
The Necklace of Pearls by Dorothy L. Sayers
The Case is Altered by Margery Allingham
Waxworks by Ethel Lina White
Cambric Tea by Marjorie Bowen
The Chinese Apple by Joseph Shearing
A Problem in White by Nicholas Blake
The Name on the Window by Edmund Crispin
Beef for Christmas by Leo Bruce
To try to get me into the Christmas mood I’ll be reading some Christmas related books, sadly so far the only one that I have in the house unread is Silent Nights Christmas Mysteries edited by Martin Edwards and it’s a British Library Crime Classic. This is one that I didn’t get around to reading last year, but I’m half-way through it now and finding it to be a good read.
This collection of short stories features the writers below, some of whom I’ve never even heard of before.
Arthur Conan Doyle
Dorothy L. Sayers
Ethel Lina White
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 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 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 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 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.