Sunday, January 22, 2017

Review: And Then There Were None

by Mary

And Then There Were None is Agatha Christie's justly famous impossible crime tour de force: how could it be that on otherwise uninhabited Indian Island an entire house party, not to mention the servants, have been murdered when, between foul weather and lack of a boat, there is no way for the culprit to escape?

A disparate collection of people has been invited to visit the island by its owner Mr Owen. For various reasons -- such as accepting the offer of a free holiday, arriving to take up the post of temporary secretary to Mrs Owen, a medical man responding to a request for a professional consultation -- they all accept. On arrival they find Mr and Mrs Owen have been detained on the mainland and will not arrive until next day, but two servants are on hand to see to the guests' comfort.

But they are not comfortable for long. Suddenly a recording accusing each of them -- including the servants -- of murder is played in the room next to the one in which they gathered for dinner. In due course we learn details of these accusations and they are a sordid collection indeed: murders for financial gain or brought about by marital jealousy, for example.

Even the presence of an ex-C.I.D. man asked there to keep an eye on Mrs Owen's jewels is not enough to stop the ensuing inexorable procession of deaths. Despite all precautions, someone is picking off one guest after another, using methods mirroring the nursery rhyme after which the book is named. After the dwindling number of guests conduct several searches of both the house and the tiny island on which it stands no stranger can be found outside or in, adding to the terror of the situation. Where could the responsible person be hiding? What could be the reason for the mounting number of deaths?

My verdict: This is one of Agatha Christie's most famous novels and to call the unwindings of its plot clever would be to make an understatement. When readers finally know the truth, some will doubtless debate whether the culprit was mad, malevolent, or mistaken -- a couple of deaths mentioned in that shocking recording could have been accidents, after all. All in all, however, And Then There Were None is a mystery classic and rightly so. s

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 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!