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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Review 1410: The Catherine Wheel

Jacob Taverner, a rich eccentric, invites some of the cousins of his extensive family to the family inn, The Catherine Wheel, for a reunion. He seems to have an ulterior motive, though, because he questions several about the stories of a hidden tunnel.

The inn has a past as a smugglers’ nest, and Detective Abbott thinks it is still so used, for drugs and stolen jewelry He asks Miss Silver to take a room at the inn to observe activities.

Jane Heron and Jeremy Taverner are among the cousins invited to the inn. It is cheaply furnished, ill kept, and creepy, and Jane’s misgivings are furthered when she recognizes Miss Silver as a detective she met before. She makes sure Miss Silver gets a room. That night, Luke White is found dead. Luke is a cousin on the wrong side of the blanket who worked as a waiter at the inn. Earlier, he was overheard telling Eily, the maid, that he was going to have her whether she wanted him or not, and if she tried to marry her sweetheart, John Higgins, one of the cousins who chose not to attend the reunion, he would murder him. Eily was discovered near the body, but so was another cousin, Florence Duke.

The dull-witted Inspector Crisp is ready to arrest John Higgins, but Miss Silver is quite certain something else is going on.

Wentworth is good at creating eccentric or likable characters, but she also telegraphs the bad guys fairly obviously, so that you know who was likely to be involved, just not why. The problem of repetition that irritated me in The Arlington Inheritance isn’t quite so pronounced in this one. Overall, the book is entertaining enough but not a great mystery.

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Review 1407: Murder at the Vicarage – #1930Club

I decided to reread Murder at the Vicarage for the 1930 Club, but it also applies to Readers Imbibing Peril. It is the first Miss Marple book, and for much of it she seems like a minor character.

The novel is narrated by Len Clement, the vicar of St. Mary Meade. He is called away one evening by what proves to be a false call for help. He arrives home late for a meeting with Mr. Protheroe, a wealthy man who is disliked by many. In his study he finds Protheroe dead, shot in the head.

Of course, there are lots of suspects and red herrings. Mr. Hawes, the curate, is behaving oddly. Mrs. Protheroe had just decided to part from Lawrence Redding, who is in love with her. Lettice Protheroe has inconsistencies in her alibi. Rumor reports that a local poacher has a grudge. A team exploring the local barrow seems to be up to something besides archaeology.

No sooner does Inspector Slack appear on the scene when first Lawrence Redding then Anne Protheroe make confessions of guilt. Miss Marple lives next to the vicarage so has some testimony to offer about its comings and goings. And she also has some interesting ideas about who may be guilty.

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Review 1406: Strong Poison – #1930Club

There are those who feel that Dorothy L. Sayers ruined her Lord Peter Wimsey series with the introduction of the character Harriet Vane. I am on the fence about this. On the one hand, I don’t really enjoy Peter’s sappiness as he courts and marries Harriet. On the other hand, I like Gaudy Night, the mystery that Harriet solves herself.

I also enjoyed Strong Poison, the novel in which Harriet is introduced. Harriet, a mystery writer, is accused of poisoning her ex-lover, Philip Boyes, with arsenic. In 1930, when the book was published, no one quite understands why Harriet broke off with Philip. Philip convinced her, against her principles, to live with him without marriage, stating that he did not believe in it. Then he turned around and asked her to marry him, which Harriet views as his having tried her out. Her resulting anger seems to be the police’s motive. Lord Peter doesn’t believe it for a moment. He thinks Harriet is innocent and wants to marry her himself. Luckily, there’s a hung jury, so Peter has a month to investigate.

At first, Peter can’t get anywhere, because he can find no motive. Yet he is struck by the precautions Philip’s host at dinner took when Philip was taken ill to preserve the food. Peter is even more struck by the precautions he took not to be left alone with Philip or give him medicine when he was ill. But this host, Mr. Urquhart, Boyes’s cousin, had no opportunity to administer the poison, and Harriet did. Moreover, Harriet purchased arsenic as research for her book.

About halfway through, this mystery becomes more a puzzle about motive and opportunity than the identity of the killer. It skillfully unwinds, however, and does not cheat by hiding information from the reader.

I reread this novel for the 1930 Club and Readers Imbibing Peril, and was glad I did. I had forgotten the witty dialogue and the deft characterization.

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Review 1397: Deep Waters

I have read several of British Library Crime Classics’ mystery story collections, usually themed around a locale. In Deep Waters, most of the stories are set at sea, although some involve rivers and one each a pond and a swimming pool. The stories are in chronological order by when they were published, from 1893 to 1975.

The first story, “The Adventure of the ‘Gloria Scott'” by Arthur Conan Doyle, is a Sherlock Holmes I have never encountered before, supposedly his first case. Like several of the first few stories, it presents and solves a puzzle so quickly that I was barely aware there was a puzzle. In fact, as I read these stories, I felt as if I was watching the evolution of the mystery story.

“The Eight-Mile Lock” by L. T. Meade and Robert Eustace, only the second story, was one of three written by women. It details the theft of a diamond bracelet from a party staying on a houseboat. The mystery is not so much about who stole the bracelet or how but where he put it to evade the police.

“The Gift of the Emperor” is a Raffles story written by E. W. Hornung, who was Arthur Conan Doyle’s brother-in-law. I don’t know if it was the last of Raffles’s career, but it seemed to be.

One of the stories I liked best was “A Question of Timing” by Phyllis Bentley. The main character, Robert Beringer, uses his observation skills as a writer to foil a criminal, save a detective’s life, and get the girl, all during a walk. This story takes place on an embankment of the Thames.

I have a frustration in general with mystery short stories as they really only have space to pose and solve a puzzle. So much that I enjoy about mystery novels is not possible at this length. Some of these stories, though, had beautiful descriptions of their settings. In any case, this is a good collection for those interested in the evolution of the mystery story.

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

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