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The Introduction to this novel informs us that this is the first time it has been in print, the unpublished manuscript having been part of the author’s estate.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 1691: The Norths Meet Murder

Mysterious Press has recently started bringing back the Mr. and Mrs. North series, which was extremely popular in the 1940’s and 50’s. Other bloggers’ reviews finally convinced me to try the first in this entertaining series.

Pam North has decided to have a party, and she thinks the empty apartment upstairs in their building would be a perfect place to have it. So, one afternoon Jerry and Pam North go up to look at it. There they find a man’s naked dead body in the bathtub.

Lieutenant Wiegand has some difficulty identifying the body, but it turns out to be that of Stanley Brent, a lawyer. Brent was a man disliked by many, part of a social set that intersects with that of the Norths. Pam North soon finds a clue, a paper with the name “Edwards” inserted into the mailbox to make it look as if the upstairs apartment is occupied. Wiegand is also able to find Clinton Edwards, a businessman and part of the same social set as Brent. Edwards claims to know Brent but to have few dealings with him.

But there are other suspects—Brent’s wife Claire; the Fullers, as Brent has been behaving as if he’s having an affair with Jane Fuller when he is not; maybe Mr. Berex or even Kumi, Edwards’ houseboy.

Mrs. North is an interesting character whose mind seems to always be ahead of her tongue. Mr. North is adept at interpreting what she means. There’s an awful lot of drinking going on in this novel, but it is humorous and engaging. It had fun reading it.

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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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Review 1646: The 1936 Club! The ABC Murders

Of course, you must pick an Agatha Christie for the 1936 Club, and my choice was The ABC Murders. In this novel, it appears at first as if Christie is telling us everything but motive. However, she has some tricks up her sleeve as usual.

Captain Hastings returns from South America to find Hercule Poirot retired but still taking the occasional case. Soon, one arrives in the form of a letter, which challenges Poirot and tells him to look for news from Andover on a particular date. On that date, an old woman named Mrs. Ascher is killed by being bludgeoned over the head. On the counter is an ABC map.

The next letter refers to Bexhill-on-Sea. On the specified date, Betty Barnard is strangled on the beach and an ABC is found underneath her body.

In between entries from Captain Hastings’ journal, we briefly follow a man named Alexander Bonaparte Cust.

Round about page 75, I got an inkling about something that might be happening, and I was right. But the whole picture was more complicated than I guessed.

This wasn’t my favorite Christie. For one thing, the solution was just too complicated. For another, I didn’t feel as if Christie’s characterizations were as rich as usual.

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Review 1625: The Secret of Greylands

The Secret of Greylands is 219 pages long, and I realized the secret about 200 pages before the main characters did. Nevertheless, I found it an entertaining gothic novel, atmospheric and with a likable heroine.

Lady Cynthia Letchingham flees her new marriage when she finds out her husband ruined her best friend. She has nowhere to go, but she recently received a curious letter from her older cousin Hannah asking her to visit, so she goes to Hannah’s home at Greylands.

Hannah has married a much younger man, Mr. Gillman, who tries to send Cynthia away when she arrives, only to become a little more welcoming after he finds out she is friendless and hasn’t seen her cousin since she was a little girl. He doesn’t allow her to see Hannah, who he says has fallen and is paralyzed in bed, until the arrival of another cousin, Sybil. Cynthia has to admit Sybil looks a lot like Hannah when she finally meets her.

Hannah seems excitable and demanding but not fearful as she was in her letter except of having her door unlocked. Nevertheless, Cynthia can’t help feeling something is amiss, as she confides to the neighbor, Mr. Heriot.

There are plenty of hints about the true state of affairs at Greylands, including an outspoken parrot, a neglected pet, mysterious goings on at night, and Hannah’s hands, but the characters can’t quite put two and two together. However, it’s a fun read, and I enjoyed it. This is another good older (1924) mystery from Dean Street Press.

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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 1533: The Mystery of the Peacock’s Eye

A mysterious man dances with Sheila Delancy at the Hunt Ball, the same night the Crown Prince of Clorania is rumored to be there. Some months later, a young woman is murdered in a dentist’s chair in Seabourne, and Detective Bannister is called away from his vacation to take charge.

A few weeks before, Anthony Bathurst is requested by the Crown Prince of Clorania to look into a case. Someone is attempting to blackmail him over an affair with a young woman. Soon, Bathurst begins to suspect that the two cases are related.

While I enjoyed the first book in this series, I thought this one was a bit of a cheat. That’s because only one piece of information links the killer to the case, and we don’t get to hear that conversation. The plot has a clever concept, but there’s no way a reader could guess the solution.

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Review 1467: The Billiard-Room Mystery

The Considines are holding a cricket week at their manor in Sussex in Brian Flynn’s first Anthony Bathurst mystery, published in 1927. Several young men are staying there, including old family friend William Cunningham, who is the narrator. Anthony Bathurst, his friend from Oxford, turns up unexpectedly, replacing another player.

In the most recent match, Gerry Prescott has played well, and later that night, he wins a great deal of money at cards from Lieutenant Barker. He has also been pursing Mary Considine, the pretty and athletic daughter of the house. The next morning, he is found dead in the billiard room, having been stabbed in the back with a dagger and strangled with a shoelace. There are lots of clues, but some of them seem to contradict each other. Then, after Inspector Baddely and his nearly mute subordinate, Roper, begin to investigate, it is discovered that Lady Considine’s pearls are missing.

Like many early mysteries, this one focuses on the puzzle rather than characterization. For some reason, though, despite the plethora of confusing clues, I zoomed right in on the murderer and knew the motive even though Flynn used a clever ruse to hide the perpetrator’s identity. This might have made me enjoy the novel less, but I liked its jaunty style and was eager to see if I was right.

This novel was sent to me by the publishers in exchange for an honest 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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Review 1421: Death Has Deep Roots

I usually give older crime novels more leeway than modern ones, because the genre has evolved. Some of the older novels concentrate on the puzzle to the detriment of character, for example, or even plausibility. Not so with Death Has Deep Roots by Michael Gilbert, published in 1951.

Gilbert, rather than having an all-knowing detective, has recurring characters in his novels, apparently. Although Goodreads lists this novel as Inspector Hazlerigg #5, he is only a minor character. Instead, the novel rests on the combined efforts of the Rumbolds, father and son solicitors; Macrae, the barrister; and Major McCann, a former soldier and pub owner.

Victoria Lamertine is charged with murdering Major Eric Thoseby, once her British contact when she was in the French Resistance, in his hotel room. The police case is built around the fact that she had been trying to contact him and that no one else could have committed the crime based on who was in the reception area of the hotel. The police think that Thoseby was the father of her child, who died just after the war, that being deserted by her lover was her motive.

Victoria claims that in fact Lieutenant Wells was the father and that Thoseby had been helping her search for him, as he was last seen when the Gestapo raided the farm near Angers where he was hiding. Victoria herself was taken in that raid.

Nap Rumbold thinks the links to the crime lie in France and the war, so he goes off to investigate. McCann investigates Lieutenant Wells in England, hoping to verify Vicky’s story about the parentage of her child. They only have a few days to find the facts while Macrae mounts his defense.

This novel is an unusual combination of legal and action thriller, Rumbold’s part providing the action. It has compelling characters, an interesting plot, and zips along nicely. I think it’s the best of the British Library Crime Classics I’ve read so far. I’ll be looking for more Michael Gilbert, whom I wasn’t familiar with before.

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

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