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 2026: Checkmate to Murder

In a bare studio on a foggy night during the Blitz, five people are occupied. An artist, Bruce Manaton, is sketching an actor, André Dalaunier, dressed as a cardinal. On the other end of the big room, two men, Robert Cavendish and Ian Mackellon, are playing chess. Rosanne Manaton, the artist’s sister, looks in occasionally from the kitchen and once steps outside to check the blackout.

A Special constable arrives at the door with a Canadian service man in tow. He claims that the old man in the house next door, Mr. Folliner, has been murdered and he caught the service man fleeing the scene. The soldier, Neil Folliner, says he went to visit his uncle and found him shot dead. The Special wants the people in the studio to guard Neil while he goes to call the police.

When Inspector Macdonald’s team begins investigating, they learn there is a rumor that the old man was a miser, although Mrs. Tubbs, his charwoman, had been bringing him food for fear he would starve. The house itself is absolutely bare, but there is an empty strongbox in the bedroom where the murder was committed.

Questioning a soldier who stood at the corner for a long time waiting for his girlfriend reveals that the only people who passed him on the street at the relevant time were Mrs. Tubbs, Neil Folliner, and the Special. It would seem that the people in the studio, all but Rosanne, alibi each other. But Inspector Macdonald doesn’t take anything for granted, and he is also interested in the studio’s previous tenants, who spread the rumor about the old man being a miser.

This mystery presents an interesting puzzle, although one not as complex as is sometimes found in Golden Age crime novels, for which I was thankful. On the other hand, I’m not sure if I think the solution isn’t a bit far-fetched. Also, it didn’t seem as if Lorac paid as much attention to characterization as she usually does, perhaps because there are quite a few characters. Still, I think her novels are some of the better ones in this series in general.

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Review 2016: Post after Post-Mortem

The over-achieving Surray family is getting together for a birthday when oldest brother Richard learns that both his sister Ruth and his youngest sister Naomi may be involved romantically with the same man—a famous mountain climber named Keith Brandon. He knows Brandon for a womanizer but warms Naomi away on other grounds.

Later the Surrays have a small house party that includes Vernon Montague, Ruth’s publisher; Geoffrey Stanwood, a writer for whom Ruth helped get recognition; and Charlton Fellowes, an essayist. The next morning Ruth is found dead in bed, an apparent suicide.

After the inquest rules the death a suicide, Richard receives a letter from Ruth that she mailed the night of her murder showing she was in good spirits. Richard goes to Inspector Robert Macdonald hoping he will look into it unofficially. Macdonald refuses to do it unofficially but ends up assigned to the case.

He finds the case frustrating because he has an idea that the death is a murder but isn’t getting any cooperation from the witnesses, who are more concerned about protecting Ruth’s legacy than finding her killer. Fellowes said at the inquest that he had heard no one moving around the house after he went to bed but confesses to Stanwood that he thought he heard Montague talking to Ruth downstairs. Macdonald learns that Fellowes lied, but Stanwood refuses to repeat what he said and then Fellowes is injured after having a talk with Montague. Montague also refuses to say what Fellowes said.

Macdonald thinks someone cut a page from the end of a short story that Ruth was writing and then trimmed it to look like a suicide note written on her notepaper. But finding proof is difficult. He also hasn’t lost sight of Keith Brandon, who proves to have been in the area that night and has lied about his relationship to Ruth.

This novel is one of the best of the British Library Crime Classics series that I’ve read so far. It has an intriguing setup and interesting characters. The solution was difficult to guess. If I have any critique, it’s that the motive was fairly unbelievable. However, the novel is interesting and cleverly written.

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

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Review 2011: Green for Danger

The details of an operating military hospital during World War II are meticulously recounted in Green for Danger. The novel begins with the postman, Higgins, delivering six letters about the writers’ postings to the hospital. The readers then learn that one of the six people will become a murderer.

The military hospital in the Kent countryside is busy one night, because an air raid in the nearby town has caused the hospital in town to send some civilians there. Among them is Higgins, the postman, who is also a member of the local rescue, most of whom have just been killed or injured.

Higgins’s femur is due to be set in surgery the next morning. It’s a relatively straightforward procedure that shouldn’t be dangerous, but as soon as he starts to go under the anesthetic, he dies. The operating team is shocked.

What seems to be an unusual but unsuspicious death from the anesthetic has Inspector Cockrill wondering. However, there seems to be no way that the canisters containing oxygen, which are black and white, could have been switched for the green carbon dioxide canisters, and no poisonous substances could be forced into a canister. If the death was murder, only the six people in the operating room could have done it.

That evening, Sister Bates, who is jealous of womanizing surgeon Gervase Eden, has a little snit during which she announces that she knows the death was a murder and she has evidence. Later, she is found dead in the surgery, stabbed and wearing a surgical gown and a mask.

This mystery is purposefully claustrophobic and quite suspenseful at times, although the explanations at the end are a bit long. I thought I knew the motive and the murderer all along, but I was fooled! I am happy to be seeing more and more women writers represented in this crime series.

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

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Review 2002: Water Weed

American Virginia Carew has been living and traveling in Europe when she meets an old friend, Glenn Hillier, who has been in England studying architecture. Glenn makes a date to meet her and her father for lunch but then cancels. He seems to be in the party of a wealthy and beautiful but much older widow, Mrs. Fenmore, whose friends call her Cuckoo.

Glenn keeps missing appointments, and then Mrs. Fenmore’s daughter Pam invites Ginny to stay. Ginny observes that Glenn is madly in love with Cuckoo and being kept in line by her ill health.

But shortly after Ginny goes to stay with her English cousins, Cuckoo is found strangled. Glenn is missing and presumed to be the murderer. Only Ginny is certain he is innocent.

I’m really enjoying these Alice Campbell mysteries. I liked this mystery even better than Juggernaut. It has a persistent, feisty heroine and a clever plot. I was only disappointed by Ginny’s ultimate romantic choice. She should have stuck to the reporter!

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 naïve 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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Review 1873: Juggernaut

Esther Rowe is a Canadian nurse who has just finished delivering a patient in Cannes and finds herself having to make a decision. Will she return to snowy New York or try to find a job in beautiful, warm Cannes? She decides on Cannes and soon accepts a post with Dr. Sartorius even though he seems intimidating.

Celebrating her new job by getting a drink at an expensive café, she overhears a conversation between a young man and a beautiful woman. He is telling her he has a job in Argentina, and she doesn’t want him to go. Later, the woman comes to Dr. Sartorius’s office for an injection. She is Lady Clifford, the much younger wife of Sir Charles Clifford, a wealthy manufacturer.

Not long after Esther starts working for Dr. Sartorius, he informs her that he is closing his practice to care for Sir Clifford, who is suffering from typhoid along with other ailments. However, he invites her to come along as the day nurse.

She hasn’t worked there long when she beings noticing odd things. Lady Clifford doesn’t pay much attention to her husband but insists on giving him his milk every day. The house is frequented by Arthur Holliday, the young man Esther saw with Lady Clifford at the café. Roger Clifford, Lord Clifford’s son, arrives unexpectedly after Lord Clifford suffers a downturn. He never received the cable sent to summon him home.

Although it isn’t very hard to figure out what’s going on in the Clifford house, Esther is a strong, feisty heroine and the novel depends more on psychology than the complex plots more usual in 1928, when Juggernaut was written. Also, there is an understated romance, and the last 50 or so pages are extremely suspenseful. Juggernaut is Campbell’s first book, and I am looking forward to more.

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

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Review 1857: Murder Out of Turn

Murder Out of Turn is the second of the Mr. and Mrs. North mysteries, which were extremely popular in the 40s and 50s.

Pam and Jerry North have invited their friend Lieutenant Bill Wiegand to their cabin on a lake in northeastern New York State. When he arrives, he finds quite a social group of vacationers finishing up a tennis tournament and then having a party. Wiegand walks one of the women home from the party at night and gets lost on the way back. When he is near the cabin with the partiers, he comes across the body of Helen Wilson, whose throat has been cut. Early the next morning, there is a fire in the cabin of Jean Corbin, killing her.

Having called in the state troopers and the Bureau of Criminal Identification, Wiegand finds Lieutenant Heimrich asking for his help. One of the difficulties for the police is not knowing which murder was intended. Everyone is surprised that anyone would want to murder Helen, although Jean is another story. So, did Jean witness something about Helen’s murder or did Helen about Jean’s? When he investigates further, Wiegand can only find one person who might want to hurt Helen, Dorian Hunt, whose father was tried for fraud. Helen, Hunt’s secretary, reluctantly testified against him. On the other hand, there are several people who may have wanted to kill Jean, jealous wives and coworkers and men she had dumped.

I’m not sure I enjoyed this novel as much as the first one, although it was okay. For me, there were too many details and not enough characterization. The Norths frankly don’t do much to solve the mystery, just get involved in some chases. Having Wiegand fall for a woman who hates cops was a little interesting.

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Review 1848: The Mayor’s Wife

A friend told me about Anna Katharine Green, who is supposed to be one of the first women mystery writers, and since then I’ve seen several reviews of her books. So, I found a copy of The Mayor’s Wife, written in 1907.

Miss Saunders is hired as a companion for his wife by Mayor Packard, who is also running for governor. He is to be away a lot on the campaign trail, and he has become concerned for his wife, Olympia, because lately she has been behaving oddly. He wants Miss Saunders to try to ascertain what is wrong with Mrs. Packard.

It’s not too long before Miss Saunders discovers that the house has had several tenants because it is supposedly haunted. The neighbors, two old ladies who used to own the house, also spend their time staring into the room given to Miss Saunders.

Although the household staff is generally friendly, Mrs. Packard’s moods vary wildly, and two of the household are unfriendly. The butler is hostile and suspicious, while Mr. Steele, Mr. Packard’s secretary, is cold.

It turns out there is a lot to discover in the house, and Miss Saunders finds hidden treasures, deciphers codes, busts the ghost, and finds out what is wrong with Mrs. Packard. Most of these secrets are easy to guess, including one involving a secret identity. Like many older mysteries, this one is more concerned with puzzles than characters, including spending several pages on cyphers.

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