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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Day 983: The 1947 Club! The Iron Clew

Cover for The Iron ClewI read The Iron Clew for The 1947 Club and what a blast it was! I was expecting a typical Golden Age mystery—heavy on the puzzle, light on motivation and character. What I got was something completely different!

Leonidas Witherall is blocked. He is the author of a series of adventure novels starring the fiery Lieutenant Haseltine. But now that the war is over, Witherall thinks that his usual villains are passé. The Nazis are beat, and the Russians are our allies, for heaven’s sake!

Mrs. Mullet, his housekeeper, advises him to move from espionage to mysteries. In no time, Witherall has invented a plot involving brown paper packages and a murder of a prominent man.

Witherall has been ignoring his own brown paper package. It is a report from the Dalton Safe Deposit and Trust Company that he is supposed to be reviewing before his dinner meeting with Balderston, the bank manager. But the muse is calling, so Witherall has just enough time to dress for dinner before going down to the hall to pick up the package. But it is gone!

Witherall hears a door closing and realizes that the thief has just left. When he sees no one walking away, he surmises that the thief is hiding in the yews at the front of the house. He tricks the thief into coming out and sees a lady in a mink emerge with a brown paper package in her handbag.

1947 clubAfter he steals the package, he becomes the quarry in a rowdy chase through the neighborhood, to be rescued by Harriman, an old boy from his school-teaching days. This incident sends him on a rollicking adventure involving several brown parcels, a green handbag, a dinosaur footprint, a murder, a kidnapping, and a massive Massachusetts snowstorm. Leonidas is helped along by a plethora of young people and an old flame.

The plot of this novel is ridiculous. The writing is energetic and witty, the characters engaging. What more could you ask? This novel was a lot of fun!

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Day 949: Traitor’s Purse

Cover for Traitor's PurseA man awakens in a hospital to realize that he remembers nothing about who he is or what has happened to him. Then he overhears a nurse and policeman talking. Someone has killed a policeman. Thinking they are talking about him, he escapes in the outfit of a fireman.

We soon learn that the escaping man is Albert Campion. Although he is picked up outside the hospital by his fiancée Amanda, he soon realizes that something important is happening and everyone is looking to him for instruction. He must stop something from happening, but he doesn’t know what.

This mystery, which is set during World War II, has to do with a plot to destroy the foundations of the country. All Campion knows is that it involves the mysterious Institute of Bridge, an organization called the Masters, and the number 15.

In this novel, we understand a little more about Campion’s thinking, precisely because he’s not behaving in character. I believe he is normally supposed to be somewhat inscrutable, because he’s frequently described as “wooden-faced.” Because of the unique situation of the novel, it is truly suspenseful.

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Day 904: Some Must Watch

Cover for Some Must WatchSome Must Watch is the novel that inspired the thrilling old movie The Spiral Staircase. Ethel Lina White, the author, was one of the early women mystery writers, another novel of hers being the basis of the movie The Lady Vanishes.

This novel centers around an isolated country house, the home of Professor Sebastian Warren, his mother, sister, son, and daughter-in-law. The main character is Helen Capel, a servant in the household.

At the beginning of the novel, Helen is coming back to the house at dusk. She is worried because she must pass through a desolate landscape and young women have been murdered in the district. Her way takes her through a plantation, but she changes direction because she thinks she sees a man lurking among the trees.

The novel takes place in the space of one night during a violent storm. At the beginning of the evening, everyone becomes alarmed because another dead woman is found dead near the local pub and Dr. Parry thinks she was killed in the same plantation where Helen saw someone. The house is full of people, so the Professor decides that they should all stay inside during the storm and not admit anyone, and they will be safe.

However, as the evening continues, one incident after another occurs that causes the people to leave the house. After a while, it seems to Helen as if some intelligence is working so that she will be alone to face the killer.

In some ways, this novel seemed rather crude, especially in the interactions between characters and the dialogue. I have run into this before with novels of a certain vintage and am not sure if it reflects people’s actual behavior and way of speaking at the time, the expectations of the genre, or simply the ability of the writer. Not very much attention is given to character development either. The focus is squarely on the plot. Still, I think the novel is interesting as representative of an early thriller.

Occasionally I comment on the publication quality of a book. I believe that my copy is an on demand publication by Between Things (not the one pictured above). Its biggest eccentricities are the starting of chapters on the left page and a typographic oddity of placing an underscore before and after phrases that I assumed were in italics in the original. There were a few other careless errors but not as many as I have noticed lately in some other regular press runs. Still, I am beginning to avoid on demand printing, if I recognize it ahead of time.

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Day 878: Death on the Riviera

Cover for Death on the RivieraDetective-Inspector Meredith and Sergeant Freddy Strang are on an unusual mission. They are following up clues that a British counterfeiter, “Chalky” Cobbett, is operating a counterfeiting ring on the Riviera. Since Meredith has encountered Chalky before, the French police hope the D. I. can help find and identify him. Meredith cautions Strang that they are working undercover, but not before they meet a tourist named Bill Dillon.

Nesta Hedderwick is a rich, middle-aged British woman with a villa in Menton who sometimes patronizes young, handsome men. Currently, she has two living with her in addition to her niece Dilys. Tony Shenton, in Dilys’ opinion, has been sponging off her aunt for far too long. He has no employment and orders the servants around as if they were his. His aunt has even given him a sports car. Even worse, he has invited a girl to stay, Kitty Linden, who is clearly infatuated with him.

Paul Latour is the other man. He keeps odd hours and spends most of his time in his room, painting. But when Dilys goes to an art show, she recognizes some of his work—with someone else’s name on it.

At the show Dilys meets Freddy Strang, who introduces himself as John Smith. Later, he is embarrassed when they run into Bill Dillon, who has come looking for Kitty, and Dilys finds out he is using a false name.

link to NetgalleyThe murder mentioned in this novel doesn’t occur until fully halfway through the book. Instead, we follow the details of the investigation into the counterfeiting ring and Freddy’s romance with Dilys. This atmospheric novel is one of the more enjoyable of these Poisoned Pen class reprints. There isn’t a great deal of characterization, but in general that is common with these older mysteries.

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