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.

More Work for the Undertaker by Margery Allingham

More Work for the Undertaker by Margery Allingham was first published in 1949 and it’s an Albert Campion mystery. I find that Campion books can be hit or miss, unfortunately this was a miss. It was so confusing, or maybe I just shouldn’t have had it as bedtime reading.

Anyway, I’m just going to copy the blurb on the back of the book, something that I’ve never done before, and it’ll give you an idea of the story.

Albert Campion finds himself entangled in an unseemly imbroglio at the eccentric Palinode household, where there have been two suspicious deaths. And if poisoning were not enough, there are also anonymous letters, sudden violence and a vanishing coffin.

There was very little of Lugg in this one and really nothing of Amanda. I’ve always thought that Campion’s character was very much improved after his marraige to Amanda, but she just appears in a letter at the end of this one.

Oh well, onwards and upwards, I’m now reading The Corner That Held Them by Sylvia Townsend Warner, and I’m enjoying that one so far.

The Blotting Book by E.F. Benson

The Blotting Book by E.F. Benson was first published in 1908 but I read a reprint by Vintage Books which was published in 2013. I don’t think I had even realised that Benson had written crime fiction although when we visited Lamb House in Rye, where he used to live, I noticed that there was a bookcase jam-packed with books that he had written, and he had written a lot more than the Mapp and Lucia series, which I loved.

Mrs Assheton is a wealthy widow who dotes on her only child Morris. He’s just turned 22 and his father’s will stipulated that his lawyers would have control of Morris’s money until he was 24 – or until he got married, when he would need access to his money to set up his own home. As it happens Morris is in love with Madge who lives nearby. She’s rather well-heeled herself and Morris is nervous about ‘popping the question’.

So when Morris discovers that one of the partners of the law firm has been dropping poisonous lies into the ears of Madge’s father about him he’s naturally furious. It looks like his dreams of marrying Madge are in tatters.

This is a quick read at just 149 pages and it seems slow to begin with but the tension builds up bit by bit and I ended up liking it a lot more than I thought I would, so I’ll definitely read more of Benson’s crime fiction in the future.

A few years ago we visited Rye, where E.F. Benson lived and was the setting for the Mapp and Lucia books, we liked it so much we’re going back again. You might be interested in the blogposts I wrote about our visit. Henry James and Rumer Godden also lived in Lamb House over the years. You can see some photos of the town here and here.

Death Goes on Skis by Nancy Spain

Death Goes on Skis by Nancy Spain was first published in 1949 but it was reprinted by Virago Modern Classics in 2020. This edition has an introduction by Sandi Toksvig.

The story begins at a railway station in Calais where people are waiting to board the Winter Sports Express. The train is travelling to the fictional country of Schizo-Frenia, and that silly (Thirkellish) name lets you know that this murder mystery is very much on the frivolous side, despite the murders.

Sisters Kathleen and Toddy Flaherte are amongst the tourists, they’re very wealthy having inherited a famous perfumery business. Also among the hotel guests are a famous actress, a supposedly Russian ballerina, a nightclub owner and various other odd bods.

If you are looking for a classic whodunnit then you might find this one disappointing, however if you just want a bit of light entertainment then this one just might hit the spot, I quite enjoyed it but I didn’t really think much of any of the characters, and that’s always difficult for me.

It was interesting that one of the tourists had stocked up with stockings and chocolate to take home to ‘Blighty’. Obviously those supposed luxuries were just about unobtainable in 1949 Britain which was stil very much in ration mode, but strangely they were easily obtained in mainland Europe. As ever our politicians were punishing the ordinary people just for existing – nothing changes!

Nancy Spain was apparently a very well-known, journalist and broadcaster in her day, and like one of the female characters in this book she wore ‘mannish’ clothes as a way of ‘making a wee statement’ although her sexuality was not spoken of, as it wasn’t in those days. Obviously this is why Sandi Toksvig was chosen to write the introduction. Sadly Nancy Spain was killed in an aeroplane crash on her way to see the Grand National (horserace) in 1964.

Jumping Jenny by Anthony Berkeley

Jumping Jenny by Anthony Berkeley was first published in 1933 but it has been reprinted by British Library. I borrowed a copy from my local library. This one is number nine in a ten book series featuring Roger Sheringham, an amateur criminologist and crime fiction author. The introduction is by Martin Edwards, as ever, don’t read it until you’ve read the book!

It begins with a fancy dress party with the theme of famous murderers and their victims. Most of the male guests can get away with just wearing normal clothes. Ronald Stratton is the party host and he has erected a ‘decorative’ gallows on a flat roof, a part of the house that guests can access if they want a breath of fresh air, he thinks it will add to the ambience. Ronald has strung up three straw filled dummies from the gallows, he has a macabre sense of humour.

The party atmosphere is marred by the presence of Ena Stratton who just has to be the centre of attention, she says and does outrageous things and embarrasses her long-suffering husband and his relatives, whilst she downs enough whisky to fell most people. She makes everyone feel extremely uncomfortable, especially when she harps on at her usual theme of committing suicide.

This is a fairly unusual plot as the reader knows who has committed the murder, but the guests don’t, and Sheringham tries to concoct evidence to puzzle the police, which causes a lot of trouble and stress all round.

I really liked this one which is full of tension towards the end and has a good twist. I love the twee house on the cover.