Sunday, January 8, 2017

Review: The Lake District Murder by John Bude

by Mary

The Lake District Murder is by John Bude, author of The Cornish Coast Murder (reviewed by Eric on our blog last August at http://ericreedmysteries.blogspot.com/search/label/John%20Bude) and like it another Poisoned Pen Press reprint of a title from the British Library's Crime Classic series.

Set in a less touristy, indeed lonely, part of the beautiful titular mountainous area in northwestern England, it begins with the discovery of the body of Jack Clayton at the isolated Derwent petrol station on the Buttermere road. Found dead in his car, he is an apparent suicide by exhaust fume asphyxiation.

Inspector Meredith of the Keswick police arrives on the scene to begin work on the first murder investigation he has directed. Clayton and his co-partner in the garage, Mark Higgins, share a cottage next to the business, and Meredith finds it strange Clayton had got his tea ready, including putting the kettle on to boil and spooning tea into the teapot, before killing himself.

But was it suicide? Clayton had every reason to look forward to the future, given he was financially secure and his forthcoming marriage was to be followed by a new life in Canada with his wife.

When interviewed by the inspector, Clayton's fiancee Lily Reade tells him there had been trouble between the two men. Perhaps this had turned nasty, providing a motive for murder. Another nugget of information Lily imparts is the couple's plan to emigrate to Canada had not yet been revealed to Higgins. Clayton's departure would have certain financial implications for Higgins, who may have somehow found out about it. But if it was murder, Higgins as obvious suspect has an unbreakable alibi for the night of his partner's death.

Thus Inspector Meredith finds himself looking not only into Clayton's murder but also what looks like a case of widespread fraud the astute will doubtless have noticed off their own bat. But how is it being perpetrated? Were either of the men involved? Could there be some connection to the suicide of a garage co-partner in another area not far off a few years earlier, and if so what? In the process of investigation Meredith himself observes "this detection business was full of annoying cul-de-sacs" and he finds himself ending up in a a few before bringing, after much wending to and fro, his investigation to a successful close.

My verdict: In his introduction, Martin Edwards describes this novel as having an emphasis "not on whodunit, but on how to prove it." Thus The Lake District Murder would be a good read for fans of the police procedural / timetable dependent novel. It is Inspector Meredith's persistence, hard work, and a dash of luck that finally pins down the culprits. As a bonus, readers will also learn a fair bit about petrol distribution!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Review: The Scarab Murder Case by S. S. Van Dine

by Mary

Philanthropist Benjamin H. Kyle is found murdered in a private museum run by Egyptologist Dr Mindrum Bliss. Philo Vance becomes involved when Donald Scarlett, a British college friend now working for Dr Bliss, arrives in terrible haste. Scarlett had gone to the museum, discovered Kyle’s body, and then left rapidly because he did not want to get involved. He has come to Vance for help.

DA John Markham and his police department cohorts are soon on the job, assisted by Vance. It transpires Kyle was funding Bliss’s Egyptian expeditions and when found is clutching a financial document drawn up by Bliss, whose scarab cravat pin is on the floor nearby.

It looks bad, especially given the only fingerprints on the statuette that crushed Kyle’s head belong to Bliss, and so does a shoe with a bloody sole. Is it an all too obvious attempt to pin the murder on him? If so, why?

Suspects include half-Egyptian Mrs Meryt-Amen Bliss, who is a lot younger than her husband, and her Egyptian servant Anupu Hani, who insists Dr Bliss’s excavations are sacrilegious tomb plunderings.

Assistant curator Robert Salveter (Kyle's nephew) is not only seems overly interested in Mrs Bliss but will receive a large inheritance under Kyle’s will. The servants seem a shifty pair as well — Dingle, the cook, who hints she may know more than she lets on, and butler Brush, who goes about looking terrified.

My verdict: The Scarab Murder Case is a book or three into the Vance series and his verbal embroidery has toned down considerably although still retaining his distinctive voice, while footnotes proliferate as usual. Markham is now a personal friend of Vance’s, remaining rather a Doubting Thomas when it comes to the psychology of criminals, Vance’s preferred method of solving crimes. Fortunately Vance is extremely knowledgeable in matters ancient Egyptian, which comes in very handy in this instance. Those keen on Egyptology will enjoy certain nuggets of interest strewn here and there, although overall the pace of the novel is slow.

I suspect many readers will geuss whodunnit, but as for proving it, ah, that is a task only Philo Vance could accomplish, and accomplish it he does despite clouds of ever-present cigarette smoke and various devilish machinations.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Review: Crimson Snow: Winter Mysteries, edited by Martin Edwards

by Mary

A British Library Crime Classic reprint from Poisoned Pen Press, Crimson Snow presents a collection of mysteries set during winter, most of them during the Christmas season. Editor Martin Edwards provides notes for each as well as an introduction in which he describes the collection as "the contents of a luxurious box of assorted chocolates", the quality and variety of whose contents he hopes will give readers enjoyment.

Short story collections are always difficult to review without giving away too much, but hopefully these brief descriptions will suffice to indicate the content of these vintage stories in a discreet fashion!

Dr Lascelles accepts Percy Ringan's invitation to spend Christmas at Ringshaw Grange, country seat of the family. It is said to possess a haunted room wherein THE GHOST'S TOUCH warns of incipient death. Naturally a guest insists on sleeping in that very room. By Fergus Hume.

Alphonse Riebiera is a blackmailer who has victimised many women who foolishly wrote him passionate letters. He is also one of two men shot dead in THE CHOPHAM AFFAIR, while the other is a man successfully defended against a murder charge by brilliant lawyer Archibald Lenton. How could these dual deaths have come about? By Edgar Wallace.

Albert Campion is a guest at a house party at Pharoah's Court with the unofficial task of keeping an eye on a diamond necklace owned by a rather vulgar house guest. Thefts take place in THE CASE OF THE MAN WITH THE SACK, but it's not just personal adornments that disappear. By Margery Allingham.

CHRISTMAS EVE is an unusual contribution in a form of a Sherlock Holmes playlette in which the great detective solves the loss of Lady Barton's pearls and kind-hearted Dr Watson does a good deed on the titular night. By Sydney Castle Roberts.

Chief Inspector Bill Cromwell accompanies his junior officer Johnny Lister to a house party at Cloon Castle. Arriving during a storm, they briefly see a figure that on investigation left no tracks in the snow. A guest sees a body that disappears, leading to an investigation of a DEATH IN DECEMBER. By Victor Gunn.

Ludovic Travers is staying with Chief Constable Robert Valence for Christmas and is surprised to see recently released swindler John Brewse is living locally. But not for long, since Brewse is the victim of a MURDER AT CHRISTMAS. There are multiple suspects, given some of his victims live in the area. By Christopher Bush.

An older woman attempting to enter a house via a window on the roof falls to her death OFF THE TILES. Since there's a parapet in front of the window it seems impossible it could be an accident, so Inspector James Quy is inclined to think it was suicide. But was it? By Ianthe Jerrold.

Martin Edwards notes in his introduction that MR CORK'S SECRET formed part of a Christmas competition in which a magazine invited readers to guess the secret. Two cash prizes were awarded and the winning entries appear at the end of this collection.

Insurance wallah Montague Cork is dissatisfied with a policy issued by his company covering a famous collection of jewelry known as Alouette's Worms, recently purchased by Anton de Raun for his bride, film star Fanny Fairfield. An unknown man is murdered at the hotel where the de Rauns booked the bridal suite, the jewels are gone, and the newly married couple are nowhere to be found. By Macdonald Hastings.

Francis Quarles attends THE SANTA CLAUS CLUB dinner to keep an eye on Lord Acrise, who's been receiving threatening letters. The latest informed Lord Acrise he would not survive the club's annual dinner, at which rich men dressed as Santa participate in a raffle for a expensive prize, the proceeds of raffle ticket sales going to a Christmas charity. Despite Quarles' vigilance the predicted death takes place. By Julian Symons.

Suffering from incipient flu and with snow lying DEEP AND CRISP AND EVEN, Detective Sergeant Petrella joins a carol-singing party organised by a minister friend. Petrella feels uneasy about a man at one house even though he treats the carollers kindly. Subsequently consulting the Notified Away List Petrella learns the householder is away so what is the stranger up to? By Michael Gilbert.

Detective-Inspector Brooks investigates a burglary resulting in the death of an elderly lady. The thieves had overlooked the most valuable items, which disappear afterwards as the result of a kind deed but return to the family via a roundabout route while THE CAROL SINGERS provide an important lead to the burglars. By Josephine Bell.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Review: The Angel of Terror by Edgar Wallace

by Mary

We know early on in The Angel of Terror who is out to cause mayhem and why, so the question is can the responsible parties be brought to justice? For the main villian is cold-blooded, exceedingly cunning, and possessed of an inventively evil mind.

The Angel of Terror is not a very satisfactory title but it gets off to a rousing start when James Meredith's death sentence is commuted to commuted to one of penal servitude for life. The crime is the murder of Ferdinand Bulford, the motive jealousy of Bulford's behaviour toward Jean Briggerland, Meredith's cousin and fiancee -- it's remarkable how many couples in novels of this era are engaged to or marry their cousins. But I digress.

Scarce has Meredith's friend Jack Glover, junior partner at Rennett, Glover and Simpson, vowed to prove Meredith's innocence when an attempt is made to kidnap orphaned Lydia Beale, who works as a fashion illustrator for a newspaper. Miss Beale is in dire financial straits, having voluntarily taken on the task of clearing her deceased father's enormous debts and as a consequence has been tormented by a constant procession of judgement summonses against her -- seventy-five in the previous two years.

As she is carried off in a taxi from which she cannot escape, Glover and Rennett suddenly appear, rescue her, and take her to Dulwich Grange, senior partner Charles Rennett's home. There she is asked an astonishing question: would she be willing to marry Meredith, who is at large with the connivance of Glover and Bennett and is in the house? If she agrees, she will not be bothered by her husband -- who'll be turned in and return to prison -- but will receive 20,000 pounds when the nuptials have been performed and 5,000 pounds a year thereafter for the rest of her life. Meredith's reasons for wishing to go through such a marriage are sound, but it must be performed by the following Monday. Despite her financial difficulties we have already learnt Miss Beale is not a gold-digger but rather a decent young woman so the reader is not put off by her eventual agreement to the bizarre proposal.

And so Meredith and Miss Beale are married next morning at Rennett's residence. Moments later Jean Briggerland shows up out of the blue and then Meredith is found in the garden, an apparent suicide.

Having made his will while in the house overnight, Miss Beale or rather Mrs Meredith inherits his wealth, but as a consequence is in great danger. Now it's tally ho as the villains make one attempt after another to despatch her.

My verdict: For all its dark subject matter, The Angel of Terror includes comical interludes, particularly in the bungling of various murderous machinations, which include a particularly nasty attempt on the Riviera and a comically noir twist in another. The ending is somewhat ambiguous and at first glance unsatisfying although thinking about it later I realised it could be interpreted at least two ways. I enjoyed the book and think many will find it a rollicking good yarn.

E-text: The Angel of Terror by Edgar Wallace

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Review: The Albert Gate Mystery by Louis Tracy

by Mary

The Albert Gate Mystery: Being Further Adventures of Reginald Brett, Barrister Detective begins with a locked, heavily guarded London mansion where more than one crime is committed in a single night, and then moves back and forth over the English Channel and around the Mediterranean.

Barrister Reginald Brett takes note of two items in the morning paper. The first reports an "affair of some magnitude" at a mansion in Albert Gate, London. Details are scanty so speculation is rife but what is known is that a party of high-ranking Turkish gentlemen, servants, and guards are living in the house under strict security. What's more, fourteen expert diamond-cutters have shown up from Amsterdam and are working there daily.

The previous night the Dutch visitors and the various Turkish attendants were detained at Scotland Yard, and Dr. Tennyson Coke, "the greatest living authority on toxicology", is among medical wallahs being consulted by the authorities.

What does it all mean?

Brett thinks it may well be connected to a brief note in the same paper reporting a close relative of the Turkish Sultan has it off to France in suspicious circumstances.

Brett has hardly started to connect the dots when the Earl of Fairholme shows up in an awful bate. It seems his fiancee, Edith Talbot, refuses to marry him until her brother Jack is located and cleared of wrongdoing. The Foreign Office put Jack in charge of arrangements for the Turkish visitors and their priceless gems and not only has Jack disappeared, so have the diamonds -- and four men have been murdered at the mansion, including the Turkish envoy, His Excellency Mehemet Ali Pasha.

And all this takes place before the end of the first chapter!

Brett agrees to take the case and goes to visit Edith Talbot, who tells him that due to the various precautions taken and certain structural alterations made before the Turkish gents arrived it was absolutely impossible for anyone to get into the house except through the front door and an entrance hall where a dozen policemen and an inspector stood guard.

Thus begins a merry chase that ultimately leads Brett and his companions across France and beyond.

My verdict: Fans of the impossible crime will find the explanation disappointing but Brett is an interesting character. He is an analytical detective of the Holmesian type but deduces information and future actions based upon observation and rumination rather than extensive knowledge of bicycle tracks or cigar ash. Because these feats occur only occasionally in the narrative readers will find them convincing. The Scotland Yard detective turns out not to be so dim-witted as usually thought, and Golden Age of Detection fans will not be surprised at the thorough thrashing administered to a man instrumental in casting mud on the reputation of Edith's brother. One piece of justice meted out towards the close is so fitting that despite possible moral outrage on the part of some readers, bearing in mind the character's attitude (valiantly trying to avoid spoilers) I suspect most of them will laugh out loud....

Etext: The Albert Gate Mystery by Louis Tracy

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Review: The Abandoned Room by Wadsworth Camp

by Mary

How was the murder accomplished in a room with both doors locked on the inside and the windows too high for someone to climb in without warning the occupant? Were what one character firmly believed were psychic forces at work in The Abandoned Room?

The Abandoned Room begins with an account of the discovery of the body of Silas Blackburn in that very bedroom, long shunned because of its history of family members dying there from various types of injury to the head. And this death was after Silas had been going around terrified out of his wits, but refusing to say why he was afraid or indeed who or what it was he feared.

Silas is the grandfather of cousins Katherine (who lives with him) and Bobby, who has been having what Camp politely calls a “lively life” in New York and is thus about to be cut out of his grandfather’s will, which otherwise would have left him a million or so with which to be even livelier.

As the story backtracks about 24 hours, Bobby and his good friend, the lawyer Hartley Graham, are talking at their club. Hartley is trying to persuade Bobby to give up his fast ways and go and see his grandfather at The Cedars, a lonely and eerie tumble-down country house.

Bobby agrees to do so but is prevented from catching the vital 12.15 train by a dinner appointment with Carlos Paredes, who brings along theatrical dancer Maria. Lawyer Graham strongly disapproves of Carlos, that “damned Panamanian”, and after reminding Bobby he has to catch his train leaves in disgust.

Next morning Bobby wakes up with his shoes off in a decrepit old house near The Cedars with no recollection of how he got there or indeed anything that happened after his dinner with Carlos and Maria the night before. Ashamed to be seen by his grandfather and cousin in crumpled evening dress and somewhat dazed condition he hoofs it for the railway station to return to New York.

On his way to the station he is met by county detective Howells, who more or less accuses Bobby of doing away with his grandfather in order to prevent the threatened changing of the will. Told to go to The Cedars to await events, Bobby finds his friend Graham already there and not long after Carlos shows up and invites himself to stay. It is a testament to their good breeding they do not tell him to be off although at times the reader will do the job for them.

What follows is a rich stew of events, including strange happenings in the candle-lit dwelling, haunting cries in the surrounding woods and outside the house, suggestions of ghostly presences infesting the decaying mansion, a woman in black glimpsed in the woods, and Bobby’s growing fear he somehow entered the locked room and murdered his grandfather in a drugged haze.

A tightening net of suspicion seems sure to bring him to trial for the crime. When one of his monogrammed hankies is found under the bed in which his grandfather died and his evening shoes fit a footprint under the window, it looks really bad for him — and he cannot summon any memories of the missing hours to his own defence.

My verdict: I really enjoyed this novel and thought the descriptions of the unhappy house and its run down grounds were excellent. The suggested supernatural element is conveyed beautifully, making this a work that would have made a wonderful Hitchcock film, in particular because of a terrific shock near the end when the explanation begins to be revealed.

If nothing else this old dark mansion mystery demonstrates that on the whole monogrammed hankies are probably best avoided. And how was the crime accomplished? The method is prosaic enough, but with a little twist from numerous similar explanations.

E-text: The Abandoned Room by Wadsworth Camp

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Review:The Mystery of June 13th by Melvin L. Severy

by Mary

The fateful date occurs more than once over more than a quarter century, in a saga involving Maoris on a mission of vengeance, an eloping couple whose ship passes that captained by the scorned fiance, the naive and about to be swindled inventor of a method of wireless telephony somewhat reminiscent of cell phones, a villainous businessman who out-Jaspers Sir Jasper, an actress taking the town by storm, assorted love affairs, and a number of other matters, all wrapped in a densely woven plot featuring among other things a cypher solved in a scientific manner, impossible locked room type disappearances, the struggle of rival groups of stockholders to gain control of a company following an event the author calls a “cool display of commercial depravity,” and more than one twist along the way.

George Maitland is called in to investigate a series of threatening letters, communications bearing the same device as that on the blade of the dagger used to murder the recipient’s father 25 years before, as well as on the hand of the assailant of a major character, and seen in various other places. And so murderous doings are set afoot and even Maptland admits “the method employed [for a murder] was unparalleled, fantastic, outre and bizarre in the extreme.”

My verdict: I found this novel difficult to get into because of the lengthy opening sequence in a Maori village describing the events that set the plot in motion. It might, I venture to suggest, have worked better if shortened and presented as a prologue, but don’t skip it! The story may unfold too slowly for some readers, but patience is advised as once into the thick of the plot, it rattles along like all get out.

I liked the idea of recurring fateful events on June 13th, and the explanations of how various matters were accomplished are fascinating. Some readers will guess the who and why since they are privy to information Maitland has not, but the how is what will almost certainly puzzle to the end, so it’s worth persisting with the novel even if you read the rather spotty copy on archive.org as I did! < Etext: The Mystery of June 13th by Melvin L. Severy