Review 2032: The Edinburgh Mystery and Other Tales of Scottish Crime

The Edinburgh Mystery and Other Tales of Scottish Crime is the latest British Library collection of crime short stories, edited by Martin Edwards. These stories are either set in Scotland or written by Scottish writers, like the first, “Markheim,” by Robert Louis Stevenson. They are arranged in chronological order by publication date, ranging from 1885 to 1974.

Some of the stories, like “The Field Bazaar” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, are simple puzzles. In this one, Sherlock Holmes explains to Watson how he knows what is in the letter he just received. Others, like “The Running of the Deer” by P. M. Hubbard, are about the supposition of crime. “Madame Ville d’Aubier” by Josephine Tey tells the story of the heavy atmosphere emanating from a woman at a bakery and how later this woman murdered her sons and husband. In “Footsteps” by Anthony Wynne, a man figures out the connection between apparently ghostly footsteps and an attempted murder.

I liked some of the stories more than others, but they altogether make an enjoyable collection for an escapist evening.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a free and fair review.

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Review 1894: Jumping Jenny

When amateur detective Roger Sheringham attends a murder party at the home of mystery writer Ronald Stratton, he is impressed by the gallows with three hanging dummies that Stratton has erected on the roof as a decoration. Little does anyone expect what use it will be put to.

During the party, everyone observes the behavior of Ena Stratton, the wife of Ronald’s brother David. She behaves wildly, always trying to draw attention to herself. She is a deeply unpleasant person, who at one point tries to seduce Roger, and when he doesn’t respond, tells others that he attacked her. She also says several times that she is going to kill herself and threatens the happiness of a couple who are waiting for the woman’s divorce to get married, saying she will write to the magistrate about them having an affair, which of course would negate the divorce in those times. (The book was published in 1933.)

It is this threat that gets her killed. She is up on the roof trying to get sympathy from a party-goer by again threatening suicide and actually putting her head in the noose when her companion removes the chair under her feet.

It’s hard for me to know what to say about this book, for on the one hand, it’s unusual and also more witty than many a detective story. On the other hand, well, wait.

We think we know all along who killed Ena, and it looks like the death will be accepted as a suicide. However, Roger has noticed one piece of evidence that convinces him it’s a murder. Instead of helping the police, he spends the entire novel trying to cover up the murder, thinking he knows who the killer is, but he does not.

This novel was acclaimed for its originality, but the undertones are not so pleasant. Ena is quite despicable, but nothing she does deserves her fate, and in fact she seems mentally ill. That’s one of the problems. Everyone dismisses her as being insane, and almost everyone conspires to help the murderer. I hope I’m not judging this novel by modern standards, but it’s clear that no one feels the least regret at either her death or their own attempts to pervert the course of justice.

So, mixed feelings about this one although a desire to read more by Berkeley. By the way, his hero is exceedingly arrogant, and I got a lot of pleasure out of his getting the crime so wrong and then muddling the evidence so badly that it was almost disastrous.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a free and fair review.

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Review 1875: Death of a Bookseller

Published in 1956, Death of a Bookseller has long been unavailable except for costly used editions. I was surprised by the publication date, because in many ways the book reads like a much older novel. It employs a rather formal, factual narrative style, and although it is more of a police procedural, it espouses notions about policing that seem na├»ve and decidedly rosy compared to the probable reality. Also, it refers to phrenology as if it were a considered a science when it was largely debunked by the 1840’s.

Sergeant Wigan decides to take up a hobby, and the one that appeals to him is collecting books. In learning about them, he develops a friendship with Michael Fisk, a buyer and seller of rare books. He has a collection of very rare ones at home, quite a few about the occult.

When Fisk is found murdered in his home, Wigan is assigned to help the Detective Inspector because of his interest in books. He notices that someone has stolen a rare edition of Keats from his collection, but later learns that someone may have also stolen one of Fisk’s books on the occult, substituting in its place a book of little value.

Very quickly, a runner named Fred Hampton is arrested for the crime with serious evidence against him. Hampton claims he is being framed, and Sergeant Wigan tends to believe him, but the D. I. thinks he has his man. However, he gives Wigan permission to continue investigating on his own time. Wigan does so with the help of Charlie North, another runner.

This novel is interesting in its information about the bookselling trade and has a complex plot, although the clues didn’t seem to me more likely to point at one one suspect over another until the very end. One extremely unlikely plot point was the seriousness with which some characters treated the supernatural angle, as Fisk was apparently trying to raise the devil when he was killed. This feature was another thing that made the book seem more like a 19th century mystery.

I received this novel from the publishers in exchange for a free and fair review.

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My latest haul (finally) from the British Library Press

After several requests, I finally got another package of review copies from the British Library Crime Classics and Women Writers series. I’m not sure what went wrong with the first few requests, as each time they said they would send some books. Unfortunately, I got more Crime Classics than Women Writers books, when I thought it would be the other way around. However, I am looking forward to some delicious reading.

Review 1794: Fell Murder

The Garths have been at Garthmere, a farm on the fells of the Lake District, from before Flodden Field. The patriarch, Robert Garth, is a hard man of 83, stubborn and hot-tempered, who will not agree to the modernizations proposed by his daughter, Marion. He has long been estranged from his heir, oldest son Richard, who moved away to Canada. His middle son, Charles, lost every penny out in Asia to the Japanese invasion and loafs around unless put to work. His youngest son, Malcolm, is frail and spends his time keeping bees and writing poetry.

It is 1944, and Richard returns to the area, on leave from the Navy. He meets his father’s bailiff, John Staple, on the fell. He doesn’t want to see his family—he just wanted to look at the land—so he asks Staple not to tell them he is there. But he is overheard by Malcolm. A few days later, Robert is found dead, shot and left inside an old outbuilding.

Chief Inspector Macdonald is called on the scene after initial interviews by Superintendent Layng, who is not good at handling the reticent farmers. Although Macdonald gets along better, he finds himself with either too many or too few suspects and no proof against anyone.

If Fell Murder has a fault, it is that the murderer is too easy to guess, being the only unlikable main character. This was often a fault of Georgette Heyer’s mysteries, too, but I still enjoyed reading them. Oh, there’s one other problem, the handling of a boy of limited intellect, but that’s due to the change in times. Just a warning.

Of these British Library Crime Classic reprints, I’ve discovered E. C. R. Lorac to be one of my favorites, because of her attention to setting and character. This is a good one.

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Review 1699: Two-Way Murder

The night of the Hunt Ball is a foggy one indeed. Nick Brent gives visitor Ian Macbane a lift to the dance. On the way home, though, he has a far different companion, Dilys Maine, a beautiful young woman whose strict father did not give her permission to go to the ball. In the fog, the car nearly runs over something huddled in the road. When Nick finds it is a body, he urges Dilys to run home by herself so she won’t have to give evidence.

Nick can’t turn around or back all the way down the narrow lane, so he goes to the nearest farmhouse to call the police, that of Michael Reeve. Finding no one home, he breaks in through a pantry window to make the call. However, someone comes in and attacks him.

Things don’t look good for Reeve. An older constable identifies the body as his brother Norman, who left ten years ago, but Reeve denies it is him. The body was almost certainly driven over by Reeve’s car, but Reeve says he often parks it on the verge with the keys in. His family having past run-ins with the police, he’s not inclined to cooperate.

But Inspector Waring of the C. I. D. thinks things are more complex than they look. He believes they center around Dilys Maine and the rivals for her affection.

The Introduction to this novel informs us that this is the first time it has been in print, the unpublished manuscript having been part of the author’s estate. That makes it a real prize for the British Library Crime Classics series. The Introduction further comments that for many years E. C. R. Lorac’s novels were only available to collectors. I’m enjoying them very much and am glad they are being republished.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a free and fair review.

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Review 1688: The Chianti Flask

Did she or didn’t she is only part of the concern of this psychological drama that is more of an apres-crime novel. Or was it a crime?

The novel begins with Laura Dousland on trial for the murder of her much older husband. But whether he was murdered or committed suicide is really the question. It all seems to hinge on a missing Chianti flask that the police think may have been used to deliver the poison. Laura says they were out of Chianti, but their Italian servant says a Chianti flask was on the table during dinner. A search for the flask finds nothing.

Laura is found not guilty but is overwhelmed by the attention she continues to get. She has been left nearly penniless with only a gloomy and poorly maintained house to sell, as Fordish Dousland notoriously only spent money on his own interests and his income was only for his life. All the money Laura saved during her years as a governess was spent trying to maintain the household and feed them.

Laura just wants to be left alone after the trial, but her well-meaning but insistent ex-employer, Mrs. Hayward, thinks Laura would be better off engaged in society. Left ill from imprisonment, Laura begins to get worse.

Dr. Mark Scrutton, whom Laura knew slightly before the trial, makes it his business to get her out of the Hayward’s home and into an isolated seaside cottage owned by his family. But soon there is another conflict when Scrutton tells her he is in love with her.

The Chianti Flask is an effective psychological novel that really gripped me. I got so caught up in the couple’s difficulties because of Laura’s notoriety that I almost forgot I was reading a mystery.

I received this book from the publishers in exchange for a free and fair review.

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My latest haul from British Library

I’ve been doing my best to get on the list for review copies for several of my favorite reprint presses. One is the British Library, and last week I just received two each of the latest books from British Library Crime Classics and British Library Women Writers. I am so excited!

My review copies from British Library!

The books from the Crime Classics series are two by women, one by an author I haven’t read before, Marie Belloc Lowndes, and one by E. C. R. Lorac, who is becoming one of my favorites.

The books from the Women Writers series are by two old favorites, Diana Tutton and E. M. Delafield.

Thank you, British Library!

Review 1616: The Lost Gallows

The famous French detective Inspector Bencolin and his friend Jeff Marle are sitting with Bencolin’s friend Sir John Landervorne in the Brimstone Club in London while Bencolin tells a strange tale of a man seeing a gallows in the fog. Upon leaving the room, they find a toy model of a gallows there. Later that evening, Marle encounters a wealthy Egyptian, El Moulk, on the floor of his rooms in the club. He appears terrified.

On the way back from the theater that evening, Marle is nearly run down by El Moulk’s limousine. When he looks into the window, he sees the chauffeur is dead. Returning to the club where the car has stopped, they receive a message saying that El Moulk will die on the gallows at Ruination Street.

The three investigate the case along with Inspector Talbot, trying to rescue El Moulk and locate Ruination Street even though they become convinced that the Egyptian is guilty of a heinous crime for which someone is taking revenge.

Like many Golden Age crime novels, this one is extremely complicated, almost to the point of the ridiculous, as the perpetrator takes a bizarre revenge. However, it is fast-paced and even contains a love interest for Marle. I believe that long ago I read a locked room mystery by Carr. I liked this one a lot better.

I received this book from the publishers in exchange for a free and fair review.

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Review 1450: The Christmas Card Crime and Other Stories

For a Christmas season treat, I read this latest British Library Crime Classic short story collection, published in October. Most of its stories are set in winter and several around Christmas. This collection includes crime stories published between 1909 and 1965.

I was surprised to find the first story was written by Baroness Orczy, whom I associate with the Scarlet Pimpernel. It turns out that she started by writing crime fiction. In “A Christmas Tragedy,” her detective is Lady Molly, who is convinced that the accused Mr. Smethick did not murder Major Ceely. The police theorize that the motive was the major’s refusal to allow his daughter’s engagement to Mr. Smethick. Lady Molly discovers a more obscure motive for the crime.

In “By the Sword” by Selwyn Jepson, Alfred Caithness plots and kills his cousin Herbert after Herbert refuses to lend him more money. Alfred’s guilt is explored in an unusual way.

“The Christmas Card Crime” by Donald Stuart is more of a crime adventure, as a criminal tries to steal an heiress’s proof of her identity.

Although some of the stories were more clever than others, the only story I couldn’t finish was “Twixt the Cup and the Lip” by Julian Symons, a caper story that seemed to go on and on.

I received a copy of this book from the publishers in exchange for an honest review.

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