The Watersplash by Patricia Wentworth was first published in 1954 and it’s a Miss Silver mystery. Wentworth is so skilled at conjuring up the atmosphere of a small English village, and the way that so many of the inhabitants are linked to each other – by blood, marriage and extended family friendships. Throw in a local telephone system where everybody has a party line and can listen in to their neighbour’s conversations and a huge capacity for gossip as a way of brightening up what is generally a boringly quiet life and you have a good recipe for a mystery.
Edward Random has just returned home to Greenings after a five year absence during which time his father (the local squire) believed him to be dead. Edward’s father had changed his will in favour of his brother Arnold, so his nose was very much out of joint when he realised his nephew was still alive. Everyone expects Arnold to give up his inheritance to Edward, but he has no intention of doing that, in fact he won’t have anything to do with his nephew.
Rumours abound – what has Edward been up to during his five years of absence? When there’s a murder in the village Miss Silver is asked to investigate. Luckily she had already been invited to stay at Greenings by the daughter of an old friend and it’s not long before she’s getting submerged in everybody’s business.
Whilst she knits a succession of pale pink baby vests she gets to the bottom of it all satisfactorily. I had a fair idea who the perpetrator was but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment. I really think I prefer Miss Silver to Miss Marple. I believe the two characters were ‘born’ in the same year. Patricia Wentworth just seems to have been unfortunate that Agatha Christie’s books were much more of a commercial success. Maybe Patricia Wentworth should have indulged herself with some sort of adventure that was taken up by the tabloid newspapers the way Christie did!
A Scream in Soho by John G. Brandon was first published in 1940 but my copy is a British Library Crime Classics reprint. It’s the first book that I’ve read by this author.
I got the impression that this book was written with the author’s tongue very much in his cheek. At times it’s just a bit daft and unlikely, but still entertaining. Detective Inspector McCarthy is quite a departure from the norm as he’s a Soho lad and had a very rough upbringing, that stands him in good stead though as he knows the types of thugs that live in the area and the sorts of things that they get up to.
It’s London’s Soho in wartime, so it’s dark and grim and there are a lot of Italian gangsters about and supposed Austrian refugees aren’t at all what they seem. There’s a murder early on – plenty of evidence but no body!
That exclamation mark of mine (I’m quite partial to them at times) is used by me as usual in a cheery and light-hearted fashion. I had to laugh when I read a Goodreads ‘review’ of this book by someone who was outraged by it, mainly because one of the chapter titles has an exclamation mark and the book is apparently homophobic, transgenderist, ableist (what is that? Prejudice against disabilities?) and a whole lot of other ‘ists’ and ‘ics’. Yet again I’m left wondering why people bother to read older books which aren’t likely to be as politically correct as most books are today. I suspect they’re looking for something to be outraged about!
John G. Brandon might not be one of the big hitters of crime fiction, but he did have a good sense of humour, and that led to this being an entertaining read.
Crimson Snow winter mysteries is a collection of vintage crime short stories edited by Martin Edwards. Reading this book gave me an opportunity to read a lot of vintage crime authors that I hadn’t read before.
The contributors are: Fergus Hume, Edgar Wallace, Margery Allingham, S.C. Roberts, Victor Gunn, Christopher Bush, Ianthe Jerrold, Macdonald Hastings, Julian Symons, Michael Gilbert and Josephine Bell.
Most of the stories are fairly short but the one by Victor Gunn is about seventy pages long so it’s really a novella and I don’t know if it’s because that one is longer – but I think it’s my favourite story. I’ll definitely be looking for more books by Victor Gunn anyway. I’ve seen a lot of his books on my travels but had no idea what they would be like and didn’t give them a go. No doubt now I won’t see any of his books in shops for yonks. That’s what happened to me with Dornford Yates, he was all over the place until Valerie said some of his books were good – and now they’ve disappeared after me being just about haunted by them previously.
I enjoyed this collection of short stories which are all set around winter/Christmas celebrations although the stories that I liked least were the ones by authors that I’ve read most. Margery Allingham and Macdonald Hastings disappointed me, maybe I just expected too much of them.
Published by British Library Crime Classics of course and the cover is taken from a vintage St Moritz travel poster. There’s a wee biography of each writer on the page before their story begins, which was interesting but I would have liked it if they had also added the date the story was originally published and which magazine it first appeared in. That’s me nit-picking though. This was perfect Christmas bedtime reading, why is murder and Christmas such a good combination?!
Envious Casca by Georgette Heyer was first published in 1941.
I’ve read almost all of Georgette Heyer’s mystery novels now and I’ve enjoyed them all although some more than others. I like the witty dialogue, especially between couples. Envious Casca is set at Christmas and features Inspector Hemingway of Scotland Yard as the investigator who is called in when a member of the household of Lexham, a large Tudor house, is discovered dead in a locked room. To begin with it’s thought that the death is from natural causes but it isn’t long before the truth is discovered.
The house is full of members of the Herriard family who are gathered together for Christmas, and a few of their friends. They’re a very argumentative bunch and Nathaniel, the owner of the Lexham estate holds the purse strings.
Despite the fact that the murder was a long time a-coming I really enjoyed this one. It was fairly predictable, the culprit was easy to spot AND none of the characters are particularly likeable, so by rights I should have disliked the book a lot, but the mystery lies in how the murder was carried out and that kept my interest. Heyer obviously meant it to be like that, especially given the title of the book. The characters are a quirky bunch so it all added up to a good read.
The Sussex Downs Murder by John Bude was first published in 1936 but I read a British Library Crimes Classic reprint. I love its cover which was taken from a Southern Railway poster for Seaford. Another plus for me is – there’s a map!
The setting is Chalklands Farm, on the Sussex Downs. Two brothers live there, William and John Rother, the farm has been in the family for three generations and William’s wife also lives there. When John’s car is found abandoned down a remote lane a few miles from the farm it’s obvious from the start that something has happened. A door is open and on close investigation there’s blood inside the car and on the inside of a cap. It doesn’t look like an accident – so what has happened to John and where is he now?
Superintendent Meredith is called in to lead the investigation and he uncovers lots of clues which point to various culprits throughout the book. It’s very detail heavy, something that I associate with male writers of crime fiction and by the end of this one my head was fairly spinning! In fact I lost concentration for a minute and had to go back and read a couple of pages over again.
Bude’s real name was Ernest Elmore and he was a theatre producer and director.
I enjoyed this one, I liked the relationship between Meredith and his son Tony, and I now know what a five valve super-het wireless was! My only slight disappointment was that it was set in a part of Sussex that I don’t know, it’s silly I know but I do like it when I can see the locations. This book has an introduction by Martin Edwards.
Suicide Excepted by Cyril Hare was first published in 1939 and it’s the first book by Cyril Hare that I’ve read. His real name was Alfred Gordon Clark and for his day job he was a judge, that must have given him plenty of ideas for his writing.
Inspector Mallett of the C.I.D. has just had a very disappointing lunch in the roadside hotel where he is having a short break. A brief chat of mutual commiseration with another guest on the poor food on offer leads to Mallett becoming a witness in a subsequent inquest.
Was it murder, an accident or suicide? A lot rests on the outcome and this one kept me guessing so I’ll definitely read more by this author.
The Methods of Sergeant Cluff by Gil North was first published in 1961 but my copy is a British Library Crime Classics re-print. It has an introduction by Martin Edwards. This is the first book I’ve read by Gil North, I can’t say I’m wild about it, I think I’ll probably give it a three on Goodreads. It has occurred to me though that quite possibly the author wrote this book as part of the successful anti death penalty campaign that was going on in the early 1960s. It was a time when there had been several miscarriages of justice and the British juries became disinclined to bring in a guilty verdict for murder, in case they got it wrong.
The setting is a small town on the edge of the Yorkshire moors, it’s a wet night and a young woman’s body is found face down on a cobbled street. Jane Trundle had been an assistant in a chemist’s shop.
There’s only one CID man in the division, Sergeant Cluff, a typical rough no nonsense North of England man, independent and stubborn. He’s a bit of a loner and his colleagues seem to resent his previous successes.
The whole town seems to think that the culprit is a young man who has held a torch for the victim for ages, his horror of the whole situation just makes matters worse, but Cluff is determined to investigate properly.
The trouble with this one is that Cluff seems like such a stereotype detective, along the lines of Morse and many other such mavericks, but maybe he didn’t seem such a cliche in the early 1960s.
I love the front cover though, it has been taken from a British Rail Yorkshire Dales travel poster. I love that style.
I’ve read and enjoyed a lot of Patricia Wentworth’s Miss Silver books but Rolling Stone (first published in 1940) is the first book that I’ve read of hers which isn’t a Miss Silver mystery. I was on a ferry sailing to Belgium when I started reading this one and coincidentally Rolling Stone begins in Belgium.
Peter Talbot has just booked into a hotel in Brussels and he realises that the man in the room next to his is in a very bad way. Spike Reilly is feverish and delirious and it’s obvious that he’s dying. Peter Talbot is intrigued by some of the things he has heard him say and despite the fact that he is on an assignment for his uncle – Frank Garrett of the Foreign Office – on the spur of the moment Peter decides to change identity with Reilly, swapping over passports and following clues that lead to a grand country house in England where a painting is stolen.
More crimes pile up and the search for Maud Millicent Simpson – England’s most deadly woman – is on. The only problem is that as she’s a master/mistress of disguise, nobody knows what she looks like.
The Z Murders by J. Jefferson Farjeon was first published in 1932, but I read a 2015 British Crime Library Classics reprint which has an introduction by Martin Edwards.
I enjoyed this one, but not as much as his Mystery in White. Farjeon has a lovely turn of phrase at times, but towards the end of this book I began to feel that a major character was just too bizarre for words.
Again, a railway journey features in the story, I wonder if that was a bit of a motif where his writing was concerned. Not that I’m complaining because I think that a train instantly sets the scene for vintage crime.
Richard Temperley is travelling overnight by train from the north of England to Euston in London. Of course those overnight trains always get into London at crazily early times of the morning, it’s too early for Temperley to travel on to his sister’s house so he decides to spend some hours resting in a nearby hotel’s smoking-room.
The man that shared Temperley’s train compartment also ends up in the same smoking-room. He had ruined Temperley’s sleep through constant snoring so when Temperley realises that the man is no longer snoring he checks on him, sure enough – he’s dead – shot. The police are called and so begins a chase around the country from London to Bristol and back north again. In fact they were travelling along a road that I knew well, that’s always a plus for me.
But towards the end the storyline became very unlikely and I would say just about impossible. I think the author got fed up writing and just wound it up.
It’s still worth reading though and if possible I would give it a 3.5 on Goodreads.
The Wooden Overcoat by Pamela Branch was first published in 1951 but my copy is a 1961 Penguin reprint. I had never heard of Pamela Branch before I came across this book but I’ll definitely be looking for more of her books. Sadly she only wrote four of them.
If you don’t like any comedy at all with your vintage crime then this book won’t be for you, but I found it to be an absolute hoot.
It begins with a murderer getting off with it, the jury has just brought in the verdict, but the reader knows that Benjamin Cann had indeed strangled his girlfriend. When he gets out of The Old Bailey he is befriended by Clifford Flush who takes him to his house in Chelsea, it turns out that it’s the headquarters of a ‘club’ and all of the members are murderers who have got off with it. For very good reasons they’re all very scared of each other.
The house next door is inhabited by two married couples who are house sharing, they’re all artists of some sort and have decided to start taking in lodgers. Benjamin Cann is their first lodger and it isn’t long before murders ensue, but not at all as you would expect.
This book has some wonderful characters and hilarious situations. It’s a real shame that it wasn’t made into a film by Ealing Comedies, along the same lines of The Ladykillers (1955), it would have been brilliant. The BBC have dramatised it for radio apparently but it isn’t available on the iplayer at the moment.
If you enjoy comedy along with your vintage crime then you’ll love this one. I was lucky enough to pick this one up for about £1 in a local shop but the ones I’ve seen on the internet are stupidly priced. Yet again I wonder if anyone ever buys these wildly priced books.
If you are wondering what I mean by The Ladykillers you can see it on You Tube below.