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.
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