Day 1109: The Sussex Downs Murder

Cover for The Sussex Downs MurderJohn Rother sets off from Chalklands Farm for a holiday, but later his car is discovered not far from home. There is evidence of a struggle, and his bloody cap is found next to the car. But has John been kidnapped, attacked? There is no way to know.

Superintendent Meredith can’t help suspecting that John’s brother, William, had something to do with John’s disappearance. The two brothers co-own the farm and a lime-burning concern on the property, and rumor has it that John was flirting with William’s wife, Janet. But Meredith can’t prove John has been harmed.

Then one of the Rothers’ lime customers reports finding a bone in the lime. The bone is found to be a human tibia. When Meredith’s men go through the lime shipped since the murder, they find more bones. Moreover, Janet was spotted taking a package out to the lime kilns.

From the minimal information they start with, the police begin to collect more, but it doesn’t make sense. A strange man is seen fleeing the area where John’s car was found. Was he an accomplice? A bogus message lured William out on the night of his disappearance. Still, it looks like William murdered his brother, and Meredith is about to arrest him when he is found dead, an apparent suicide.

This mystery is fairly complicated, but I had an inkling of what was going on almost from the beginning and never changed my mind. I turned out to be right. As with the other Bude mysteries, the emphasis is on the puzzle. The characters, except for Meredith, are cyphers.

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Day 1099: The Moving Toyshop

Cover for The Moving ToyshopI am sure I previously read one of Edmund Crispin’s Gervase Fen mysteries and was not impressed, but lately several bloggers I enjoy have recommended The Moving Toyshop. So, I decided to try him again.

Richard Cadogen has decided to give himself a holiday in Oxford. When he ends up stranded partway because of the cancellation of a train, he decides to hitchhike the rest of the way. So, he arrives in the outskirts of Oxford at 1 AM.

Curiosity makes him investigate a toy shop that he finds unlocked. Upstairs in the living quarters, he discovers the dead body of an older woman, strangled. Then someone hits him on the head.

When he awakens, he is locked in a closet. He gets out by the window and reports the crime to the police. However, when they arrive at the store, it’s a grocery. The apartment is different than the one he remembers and there is no body. The police think he is crazy.

Cadogen turns to his friend, the eccentric Oxford don, Gervase Fen. Their inquiries begin to turn up a plot to defraud the victim of her inheritance. The problem is, first they have too many suspects and later too few.

This novel has a complicated, fairly unbelievable plot, but it is characterized by a wacky sense of humor, as Gervase and his pals chase bad guys all over town. At one point, he is assisted by a hoard of undergraduates, and the novel ends with an exciting chase on a fast-moving carousel, a la The Third Man. I found the novel fun to read and the characters engaging.

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Day 1072: The Cornish Coast Murder

Cover for The Cornish Coast MurderI have to admit, I’ve been picking out these British Library Crime Classics by their beautiful covers. The last couple I’ve read have been based on vintage travel posters.

The Reverend Dodd is the vicar of the village of Boseawen. Each Monday he and Doctor Pendrill have dinner and exchange library books, mostly mysteries. But this evening is interrupted by a terrific storm off the coast. Then the doctor is summoned to the house of Julius Tregarthan.

When the doctor arrives, he sees there is nothing he can do. Tregarthan has been shot from outside the window. Reverend Dodd notices that there were three shots at different heights through three different windows.

When Inspector Bigswell arrives to investigate, he quickly surmises that the shots must have come from the cliff path. This idea makes things look bad for the victim’s niece, Ruth Tregarthan, who was one of only two people whose footprints were found on the path and who argued with her uncle that night. More suspiciously, her lover, Ronald Hardy, has gone missing.

This novel shares the Golden Age fascination with puzzles and doesn’t focus much on characterization. Unfortunately, I was about 100 pages ahead of Dodd on one of the biggest puzzles. I would also say that there is a cheat in the murderer’s identity, but I don’t want to say what it is.

So, not the best of the classic mysteries I’ve read recently, but certainly one for those who like puzzles.

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Day 1066: The Lake District Murder

Cover for The Lake District MurderIf I was thinking ahead, I would have read something for today that commemorated the Norman Invasion, but oh well . . .

The Lake District Murder is John Bude’s first mystery featuring Inspector Meredith. Golden Age mysteries seem to be divided between adventure novels and novels that focus on the puzzle. This one focuses on the puzzle.

A farmer stopping for gasoline finds the gas station owner, Clayton, an apparent suicide, with a mask over his face where he has funneled carbon monoxide from the engine of his car. But Meredith sees discrepancies at the scene. Why would the man have fixed himself a tea but not eaten it before committing suicide? And how could his hands be clean after he affixed the dirty hose?

Moreover, the victim was engaged to be married and had plans to emigrate to Canada with his bride. These plans are ones his partner in the garage, Higgins, claims not to know about.

Meredith’s investigation leads him to surmise that something illegal is going on involving the oil company and a chain of garages. As a result, the book focuses on this problem for most of the time, and it involves examinations of tank trucks, calculations of pumping speed and tank capacity, timetables, and lots of other details that are, frankly, boring.

When the solution comes, both to the illegal activity and the murder, it is so overly complicated that it’s hard to believe anyone would think of it. This is not one of the classic mysteries that I enjoyed. It focuses almost exclusively on the puzzle with little bother toward characterization or other literary elements.

Day 1019: The White Cottage Mystery

Cover for The White Cottage MysteryThe White Cottage Mystery is not one of Margery Allingham’s Albert Campion mysteries, and there is a good reason for that. But explaining that remark gives away too much. This novella instead features W. T. Challoner and his son Jerry.

Jerry falls into the mystery when he offers a lift to an attractive girl who lives at the White Cottage. Just after he drops her off, when he is in conversation with a policeman, he hears a gun shot. Then a parlor maid runs out of the house asking for help.

It seems that someone has shot and killed a visitor to the house, Eric Crowther, the next door neighbor. Crowther was disliked by the entire household. However, the finger of guilt seems to point to Mr. Cellini, an occupant of Crowther’s house, who has fled to France.

About a third of the way through the book, I gave a sigh. Golden Age mystery writers seem to love larger-than-life plots, so when mention was made of a huge crime syndicate, I thought, why can’t this be a straightforward mystery? But the syndicate turns out to be a red herring, I don’t mind saying.

link to NetgalleyThe solution to the mystery turns out to be quite surprising. Challoner unearths some juicy secrets, and the situation is complicated by Jerry falling in love with Norah Bayliss, the sister of the house’s owner.

The cover of the new Bloombury Reader edition is retro and lovely. It reminds me of some of the covers coming out lately from Poison Pen Press and the British Crime Series.

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Day 1013: Mystery in White

Cover for Mystery in WhiteI have made it a tradition the past few years to review a Dickens Christmas story at Christmas time. We moved in October, though, so I have not yet unearthed my collection of Dickens Christmas stories. Wanting to read something seasonal, I settled on Mystery in White, which is set on Christmas Eve and Day and is also a sort of ghost story, which fits my tradition.

A heavy snowfall halts a trainful of people on their way to various Christmas gatherings. They are sitting there wondering how long they’ll be stuck when an older man, Mr. Maltby, a psychic researcher, abruptly leaves the train to walk to another station.

This action inspires a group of young people to follow him. They are a brother and sister, David and Lydia Carrington; a chorus girl, Jessie Noyes; and a young clerk, Robert Thomson. The only passenger from their car who stays is a blowhard.

Shortly after leaving the train, the party loses Mr. Maltby’s path and gets into difficulties in the snow. Luckily, they eventually find a house, but it has been left in a strange condition. The front door is unlocked, water is on the boil, tea is prepared, but no one is in the house.

Feeling they have no choice but to take shelter, the four make themselves at home. Jessie has sprained her ankle and Mr. Thomson becomes very ill. Mr. Maltby soon appears with another man, and the blowhard shows up. Soon, some of the party begin to feel uncomfortable in the house. Mr. Maltby is certain that something unpleasant has happened there, and the party soon learns that there was a murder on the train.

I have recently read several John Bude mysteries from the same period, and I admit to preferring Farjeon. He spends a lot more time with his characters instead of creating elaborate puzzles. I found this novel a pleasant way to spend a chilly December evening.

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Day 987: Murder of a Lady

Cover for Murder of a LadyMurder of a Lady is a classic locked door mystery set in a castle in Scotland next to a loch. Amateur sleuth Dr. Eustace Hailey is visiting in the area when he hears of the death of Miss Mary Gregor, whom some regard as a saint, the respected sister of Duchlan, the castle owner. She was found dead in her bedroom of a stab would, but the bedroom door was locked. No one could have entered the window, because men were fishing in the loch, and the window was in plain sight of their boats. Miss Gregor is found to have an old wound in her chest that no one admits to knowing about.

When Dr. Hailey goes to investigate, he is not welcomed by Inspector Dundas, who wants to solve the case himself. An oddity of it was that a herring scale was found on the victim, and this and the report of a splash are enough to start rumors of a selkie among the Highland servants. Dundas is able to make no headway in the case at all, though, and finally asks for Dr. Hailey’s help. But shortly after the doctor arrives, Dundas is himself murdered, in similar circumstances to the original murder, within seconds of Hailey and Dr. McDonald leaving his room.

The new policeman, Inspector Barley, is quick to decide that Miss Gregor was murdered by Oonagh, Duchlan’s son’s wife, and Dr. McGregor, whom he thinks are lovers. He and Dr. Hailey have realized that Oonagh was trapped in a horrible situation at the castle, in a rivalry with Miss Gregor, who was not as saintly as people believe. But Dr. Hailey believes that Oonagh loves her husband Eoghan and is not having an affair. And soon there is another murder.

This novel is certainly a characteristic Golden Ager, focusing most of its attention on the locked room puzzle, although some attention also goes to understanding the psychology of the people living in the house. Still, Dr. Hailey is an enigma, and the story is wrapped up so abruptly after the solution of the murder that it is startling. Still, I mildly enjoyed this novel, especially for its Highland background.

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