Someone from the Past by Margot Bennett

Someone from the Past by Margot Bennett was first published in 1958 but it was reprinted by  British Library in 2023. This book won the Crime Writers’ Association’s Award for the best crime novel of 1958, but it was the last crime novel that the Scottish author Margot Bennett wrote. The setting is mainly London.

Nancy had been enjoying a night out with Donald, it seems to be a special date, they’ve been on the champagne and all seems well, but they are interrupted by Sarah, a one time work colleague of Nancy’s, but Sarah had been somewhat closer to Donald in the past, he’s not enamoured with her at all now.

But Nancy agrees to help Sarah who has been receiving anonymous letters, threatening her death, the threat seems to come from a man in her past – but there have been so many of them. Before Nancy can do anything to help, Sarah is found dead and a bad decision by Nancy means that she is a suspect. It’s all a bit of a nightmare.

The blurb says: As the real killer uses the situation to their advantage, Bennett crafts a nuanced story through flashbacks to Sarah’s life and loves.

This is a good read although my favourite era for crime novels is the 1930s and 40s, don’t ask me why, they just seem more atmospheric.

 

 

 

 

 

Green for Danger by Christianna Brand

Green for Danger by Christianna Brand was first published in 1944 but it has been reprinted by British Library in their Crime Classics series.

The setting is Kent in 1942/43, at a new military hospital called Heron’s Park. Esther is a young woman who had joined the hospital as a V.A.D. against her widowed mother’s wishes as she was terrified of the bombing and didn’t want to be left on her own. Esther feels she has to do her bit though.

It’s a busy time for the hospital as lots of  bombs have been dropped in the locality. Joseph Higgins is a postman, and he’s also part of a rescue squad, helping to dig people and bodies out of bombed buildings. But he ends up in hospital himself after being caught up in a bombing raid. He’s very worried about having to have an operation and Esther reassures him, but something goes wrong when he’s on the operating table and he doesn’t survive it. When there’s another unexpected incident during an operation it’s obvious that there’s something nefarious going on.

Inspector Cockrill is called in to investigate.and it transpires that there’s a small number of people who would have had the opportunity to commit murder.

I must admit that I didn’t guess who the culprit was, which is always a plus, but I felt that I should have known. I didn’t really like many of the characters though which is always a problem for me.

Somebody at the Door by Raymond Postgate

Somebody at the Door by Raymond Postgate was first published in 1943 but British Library has reprinted it in 2017 in their Crime Classics series. He also founded The Good Food Guide.

The setting is the south of England, Winter 1942.

Councillor Grayling gets on the train at Euston, it’s a really busy train and his carriage is full, some of the people he knows, but doesn’t particularly like. He has £120 in his briefcase and he’s a bit worried about carrying so much money. When he gets off the train he walks the short distance from the station to his home, through the snow covered streets, but when he reaches his home he falls through the door as his wife answers it, in no time he’s dead. His briefcase is missing.

Inspector Holly investigates, looking into the backgrounds of all Grayling’s fellow passengers, apart from two young workmen who can’t be traced. It seems a lot of them have good reasons for not liking Grayling.

For this reason the story seems to go off at strange tangents, but it all makes sense eventually and I didn’t guess what was going on.

Raymond Postgate was the father of Oliver Postgate, who created Bagpuss, The Clangers, Noggin the Nog, and Ivor the Engine. Not many people remember Noggin the Nog, it was before my time on children’s TV but it’s a favourite with Jack. Peter Firmin was also involved in making that one. I was more of a Bagpuss fan. Sorry, that’s me going off at a tangent now.

 

 

Suddenly at His Residence by Christianna Brand

Suddenly at His Residence by Christianna Brand was first published in 1946 but it was reprinted by British Library in 2023. It’s an Inspector Cockrill mystery. It’s subtitled A Mystery in Kent, but really it could have been anywhere in the south of England. In Americal this book is titled The Crooked Wreath.

The setting is Swanswater Manor, a large house owned by Sir Richard March. As World War 2 is still ongoing the manor is fuller than usual, Sir Richard’s family has gathered together, including his grandchildren. After the death of his wife Serafita Sir Richard had married his long-term mistress Bella, who had had a daughter by him, and she had had a son Edward. He’s an attention seeker and has concocted mental health issues which might come back to bite him.

The whole manor house is a shrine to the first wife Serafita, there are portraits of her everywhere, and small tables with her ballet shoes and other personal things on show, it’s a cross that Bella has to bear.  Sir Richard is cantankerous and uses his wealth to manipulate his family, he’s always changing his will, despite the fact that he has a weak heart and could pop off at any time.

This is an enjoyable classic country house mystery, although I did guess who the culprit was, but not too early on.

There’s an interesting introduction by Martin Edwards.

Uncle Paul by Celia Fremlin

Uncle Paul by Celia Fremlin was first published in 1959 but has just been reprinted by Faber. It’s subtitled Welcome to the Nightmare Summer Holiday.

Meg is the youngest by far of three sisters, but it seems that she is the one who has to come to the rescue of her sisters who are feckless and disorganised (Isabel) and highly strung (Mildred).

Isabel has rented a caravan in an English coastal resort, but she sends Meg a telegram which says that Mildred needs help, please come.

Meg’s newish boyfriend isn’t keen for her to go as he feels that she’s always having to sort out her sisters’ problems, which she is. But Meg can’t ignore the call for help and when she gets to the holiday resort – Southcliffe – she is amazed to discover that Mildred has rented the very cottage which she had spent her honeymoon in years earlier, when Meg was just a little girl of six.  In fact ‘Uncle Paul’ as Meg had called her brother-in-law had been arrested for the murder of his previous wife while they were at that cottage.

This was a really enjoyable read which had for me a couple of surprising twists at the end.

 

The Christmas Egg by Mary Kelly

The Christmas Egg by Mary Kelly was first published in 1958 but it was reprinted by British Library in 2019.

The setting is London and it begins just a few days before Christmas. Chief Inspector Nightingale and Sergeant Beddoes have been called to a poverty stricken flat in Islington. An elderly lady has died, she’s emaciated looking, and her ‘flat’ is really just one room. She didn’t even have  a proper bed to die in. It’s all very dirfferent from the life she was born into becaue she was a White Russian before the revolution and her name was Princess Olga Karukhin. She managed to escape from Russia with her son and a box full of goodies, jewels, porcelain, ikons, some Faberge, and she had hoarded them for years. But now she has been murdered and her box is empty.  It transpires that she had recently had her treasures appraised by a well-known firm of jewellers, it’s all a bit suspicious.

Olga’s grandson is a drunk. Ivan is well-known in the local pubs and to the police. He’s also apt to boast to everyone that he’s really a Russian prince and that he’s looking forward to getting his inheritance.

There’s a lot of action in this book and some likeable characters, it added up to an enjoyable read. There is of course an interesting Introduction by Martin Edwards.

 

 

Murder in a Heatwave – short stories

Murder in a Heatwave is a compilation of ten vintage crime short stories. I was attracted by the bookcover which was on display in a charity shop, so art deco.

The authors are: Dorothy L. Sayers, Rex Stout, Arthur Conan Doyle, Carter Dickson, Baroness Orczy, Michael Innes, Julian Symons, Ethel Lina White, Margery Allingham and surprisngly Ian Rankin.

I had read all of the authors before, except Baroness Orczy and although I’m not a huge fan of short stories I enjoyed most of them. I wasn’t massively taken with the Rex Stout story which is I think the longest, and I have  a bit of a Conan Doyle phobia. I enjoyed The Mystery of the Russian Prince by Baroness Orczy, and I’ll definitely give one of her books a go.  A Good Hanging by Ian Rankin features the Edinburgh Festival and Rebus, it seems strange that he should count as classic crime, but that probably says more about me than anything else.

I think that the back cover is more art deco than the front.

After reading these stories all set in summer heat I’ll soon be going on to my Christmas/Winter themed books that I’ve been hoarding throughout the year. Fingers crossed they get me into the festive mood!

Twice Round the Clock by Billie Houston

Twice Round the Clock by Billie Houston was originally published in 1935 but it was reprinted by British Library in 2023. This one is my kind of murder mystery as Billie Houston gets to the murder immediately. By the time the reader gets to the bottom of page one a body has been glimpsed in a flash of lightning. It’s draped across a table and has something white and gleaming sticking out of its back!  It’s Bill Brent who has made the discovery at 4 a.m. He had been one of several guests at the home of scientist Horace Manning. They had been celebrating the engagement of his daughter Helen to Anthony Fane. Surprisingly her father had agreed to the match.

But Helen lives in fear of her father, as did her now dead mother and she knows that her father must have a plan to sicken their happiness. Mrs Geraint the housekeeper has only stayed in the job to try to protect Helen from the cruelties of her father. He had enjoyed torturing people mentally.

I enjoyed this one which is a classic country house whodunnit with a small cast of possible culprits – the staff and the house guests. The murder victim is shown to be a despicable character that nobody would feel sorry for, not even if he was mad rather than just bad.

Billie Houston was born in the east end of Glasgow into a theatrical family and she followed her parents onto the stage as an actress and dancer. Sadly Twice Round the Clock is the only book that she wrote.

 

Comes the Blind Fury by Douglas Rutherford – 20 Books of Summer 2023

Comes the Blind Fury by Douglas Rutherford was first published in 1950.

Harry Forsythe and Paddy Regan had been in the army together in WW2 and they have been having a bit of a hard time settling into civilian life at the end of it all, they decided to set up a detective agency. They were just beginning to think that it was a mistake as they had no clients at all, when one turned up in the shape of Angela Dove, a young woman who was worried about her brother Robert. He had gone to France and Angela hadn’t been able to contact him at all. She’s worried as their step-father is a wealthy businessman, and she suspects that someone might have kidnapped Robert.

Harry gets the job of going to Paris to try to track Robert down, but his subsequent phone call to Paddy ends abruptly and Paddy fears the worst.  Of course Paddy has to follow his partner to Paris to see what has happened.

I don’t want to say much more about the plot, but it features Scotland Yard and a chase to Zurich. I really enjoyed this thriller, I think it’s the first book that I’ve read by Douglas Rutherford whose bio on the back of this Penguin crime reads like one of those spoof bios you sometimes see. He was a Counter-Intelligence Officer in WW2 and that background in espionage and international crime obviously gave him the ideas for his writing career.

I must say though that whenever I read about a private detective and a young female client I inevitably think of Bogart and Bacall, but this book doesn’t seem to have been made into a film.

Striding Folly by Dorothy L. Sayers

Striding Folly by Dorothy L. Sayers contains three short stories, apparently the last three cases of Lord Peter Wimsey. This book was first published in 1972, but two of the stories had previously been published in 1939. This book has an introduction by Janet Hitchman.

Striding Folly wasn’t terribly entertaining, for me anyway. Two neighbours Mr Creech and Mr Mellilow  play chess a couple of times every week, but it seems that everything is going to change as the valley they live in has been sold to an Electrical Company – by Mr Creech. Mellilow had moved to the area because it seemed so unchanged, he thought that nothing would ever spoil the solitude. There’s a murder which is when Lord Peter appears, towards the end of the story. It was okay-ish.

The Haunted  Policeman begins with the birth of Lord Peter and Harriet’s son Bredon in a hospital. On the way back home after the birth Lord Peter falls in with a policeman who is new to the beat so Lord P is a stranger to him and he’s supicious of him, until he explains he has just become a father. The policeman is a worried man though, he had thought he had seen a murder victim earlier in the night – through a letter box –  but the house seems to have disappeared. Of course Lord Peter can help.

Talboys was written in 1942 but hadn’t been published before. Bredon is now a young lad and is more than a bit of a handful. Lord Peter is an indulgent father  but believes in corporal punishment. Miss Quirk is a guest in the house, she’s keen on child psychology and  speaks her mind. This is quite an amusing read and I enjoyed being in the Vane-Wimsey household.