Monday 17 March 2014

Yet more crime and mystery books...

Still reading the crime and mystery yarns so here are three more read since the beginning of the month.

This first book, The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers, qualifies for two of the challenges I'm doing this year. Firstly, I read it for Bev's Vintage Mystery challenge and it covers the category, 'A Book with Number in the Title'. Secondly it also qualifies for her Mount TBR challenge and is my book eight for that.

Lord Peter Wimsey and his valet, Bunter, run their car into a ditch, in a snow-storm, somewhere in The Fens of East Anglia. They walk to the nearest village and get taken in by the local vicar and his wife. Wimsey is a bit of a church bell-ringer it turns out and gets roped in to ring for a marathon, all night, bell-ringing session. The car is recovered and off they go, only to be called back some weeks later. The body of a man has been found in the grave of a local woman, only recently buried. No one knows who he is and the hope is that Wimsey can untangle the mystery. It seems it might be connected with the theft of a valuable necklace several years ago which brought financial ruin on the people who live in the local 'big house'. The woman whose grave had been used to hide the body belonged to this family. Two men had been caught and tried for the theft but the necklace had never been recovered. The case is incredibly complicated, bell-ringing and bell-ringers seem to be crucial to the case and Wimsey even has to travel to France to unravel this extremely tangled web.

I just thought this was absolutely brilliant. I don't know enough about Lord Peter Wimsey (having only read three of the books so far) to judge properly but it seemed to me that he was more serious in this book than in the others. Less of a twit, if that makes sense. I don't know why that should be and of course it could just be that my impression is wrong. Whatever, this really was a terrific read, very full of detail about bell-ringing, very much a picture of village life before the war I suspect, and spot-on with its setting and atmosphere of The Fens. I haven't been there in the winter but can well imagine it would feel that isolated and insular. The writing is spectacularly good, this is one of the big surprises I've had about Sayers and her books: her writing is every bit as superb as any classic author you care to name. I'm so glad I still have a number of these Peter Wimsey books left to read and feel I ought to slow down a bit or I'll end up gobbling them all up at once!

Next up, Touch Not the Cat by Mary Stewart. I read this one for the My Kind of Mystery challenge which is being hosted by Carolyn at Riedel Fascination. It also qualifies for Bev's Mount TBR challenge and is my book nine for that.

The death of her father brings Bryony Ashley back to her ancestral home, Ashley Court. She will not inherit the run-down small stately home, it will go to eldest of her three cousins as the estate is entailed through the male line of the family. Bryony grew up with her three cousins, twins Emory and James and younger cousin, Francis. She believes she has a telepathic connection with one of them but has no idea which. In fact she has grown up with his voice in her head and whoever it is is now part of her. But all is not right at Ashley Court. There is some question in her mind about her father's accidental death in Germany. His last words were written down and provide a cryptic message to her which she feels she must solve. Her cousins, the twins, are acting strangely too, creeping around in the church at night and making her feel slightly menaced. What's going on? Bryony desperately needs to solve her father's mysterious riddle but this will bring her into conflict with her family and possibly lose her the thing she holds most dear, the voice of her lover in her head.

This is one of those books that comes into the 'OK' category. I didn't dislike it, but neither did I love it. To be honest I found it a wee bit dated, very much of its time period which is the mid-1970s, and at that time it seems some authors were still writing about 'naice gels' getting themselves into a spot of bother. It was well written, no doubt about that, and the mystery - what the cryptic message was all about, whether her cousins are Bryony's friends or enemies, and the identity of the voice in her head - was quite fun and enjoyable. I have a feeling Mary Stewart wrote better books than this, in fact I know she has as I've read her Merlin trilogy and loved them. I have several more to try and suspect I may find them a bit more to my taste than this.

Lastly, Fer-de-Lance by Rex Stout. This one was also read for Bev's Vintage Mystery challenge and covers the category 'A book with an amateur detective'.

A woman comes to see Nero Wolfe to ask him to find her missing brother. It seems the brother might have been involved in some kind of criminal activity from which he hoped to make a lot of money. Another man dies on a golf-course the victim of a bizarre kind of murder by poisoning. Are the deaths connected? Wolfe thinks so and sends his young employee, Archie, to investigate. The case takes Archie among the well-to-do families in Westchester county, New York, and the whole thing turns out to be very convoluted indeed.

Fer-de-Lance is the first book about Nero Wolfe and his sidekick, Archie. Wolfe is a very big man who never goes out and is deeply into the growing of orchids and the eating of good food. He's the brains behind the outfit and Archie, the story's narrator, really just follows instructions. It's an odd basis for a series of books with the main crime solver solving the crime by mental deduction and never going out to visit crime scenes; if he wants to question a suspect they have to be brought to him. This was another book that I neither loved nor hated. I can't say that any of the characters appealed to me that strongly and I never felt that involved in the plot, but am not sure why. I think possibly that when it comes to 1930s crime yarns I prefer British to American. It *was* all quite clever however and as it's a first book I'm happy give the series another chance and read more. It could be I'll like subsequent books more than this and I have several on my eReader to try.



Major said...

I thought Fer-de-lance was too long, which is my main gripe for many, many Golden Age mysteries. But the characters of Nero and Archie felt genuine, as if they had been together for a long, long time. I don’t know how Stout achieved this in a first book in the series, but he did. I think the Nero novels published after WWII are the best ones and the novellas are better than the novels.

Major said...
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BooksPlease said...

I'm so glad you liked The Nine Tailors and that you didn't give away any spoilers, because I'll be reading it in April. I'm really looking forward to it. Our book group's choice this month is The Bell Jar, which I read first several years ago and am not liking it any more this time round!

I think I'll give Touch Not the Cat a miss - even though I too loved the Merlin books years ago - I'm wondering if I'd still like them now, but it's best not to re-read them, in case it spoils my memories.

I haven't read any of Rex Stout's books. They sound interesting as a comparison to Agatha Christie's books - Poirot too liked to use his little grey cells, but at least he went out and about.

So sad about Clarissa Dickson Wright!

Val said...

Can I confess that I too have a bias towards British Crime versus American ...but that may just be my ability and comfort in "picturing" the characters and settings. It's lovely to read your reviews of DL Sayers works they are favourites of mine and you still have more treats in store. There is an Old book called "The Puritan Pleasures of the Detective story" by Erik Routley that you might enjoy (hopefully it's in the library) It's a book about detective novels by an enthusiastic Vicar he introduced me to many fun authors :0)
I thought of you this morning as I read about Clarrisa Dickson Wrights death introduced me to her as a very interesting if complex character. St Pauls Youtube account has a recording of her that I'm going to listen to later. All the best from a presently deeply snowy Alaska :0)

Major said...

Sorry I forgot to mention before that my review at PBS of Fer de Lance is at

DesLily said...

By the time this year is over my "sis" should be able to pull off the "perfect crime"!! lol..

Cath said...

Major: Yes, I too thought it was a bit too long. I'll bear in mind your comment that the ones published after WW2 being better. Interesting. Enjoyed reading your review too so thanks for including the link to that.

Margaret: I hope you enjoy The Nine Tailors as much as I did.

I'm ashamed to admit that I've read no Sylvia Plath whatsoever! And your comment doesn't make me want to rush out and buy any. Not that my knees allow me to rush anywhere much these days...

I feel the same way about the Merlin books, I was besotted with them and don't want to spoil that memory.

It *is* sad about Clarissa. I feel quite bereft, to be honest.

Val: You may confess whatever you like here, m'dear. ;-) But seriously, yes I think it is to do with picturing the settings etc. more easily. Plus I like the 1930s English version of the English language better I think. The American version seemed a bit too 'gangsterish' for my taste.

I shall look up the book you rec in a moment. It sounds interesting.

Yes, really sad about CDW. I have to admit to being very shocked.

Pat: Yeah, I was thinking I might bury Peter under the patio but now I have lots of better ideas! LOL!!! ;-)

Peggy Ann said...

Cath, I have an old copy of The Nine Tailors on the shelf and have never got to it. Actually I've never read Sayers yet! Enjoyed your review will read it this year!

Cath said...

Peggy: When you eventually get to read DLS I think you'll be surprised at good the books are. I've been totally shocked, I had no idea.

Susan said...

I read Thornyhold by Mary Stewart earlier this year, and found the same thing - enjoyable, but dated somehow too. Which was surprising, since I didn't think her work would date itself. Something about the tone, then, I wonder? Still, she has interesting ideas. Ana at Things Means Alot had an interesting review of Touch Not the Cat also late last year.

I have read Dorothy Sayers, but I can't remember which ones, it was long ago before I kept any lists! I will have to go back and reread them, which if I remember correctly, won't be a problem at all - I think I really enjoyed them at the time! lol I'm glad to see her getting read again, and so many enjoying her stories. It is hard to not read an author all the way through, once you know you like them, isn't it?

Cath said...

Susan: Yes, the tone... but I'd be hard put to put into words *why* the tone has stopped appealing to me over the years. I don't think her Merlin books would feel like that, but I don't think I'll put it to the test and ruin my memories of them.

I don't think a reread of Dorothy Sayers would be a problem. LOL Loads of people reading her now I notice.

Yes, it is hard not to gobble up an author's work when you discover them. I try not to but sometimes you just can't help it. Right now it's Anna Dean's Dido Kent books. I think I mentioned her to you on your Jane Austen letters post. Since then I've gobbled up three with the fourth on the library pile. *Love* them.

TracyK said...

Commenting very late on this, but I was looking through your blog and noticed that you had read a book by my favorite author, Rex Stout. I just wanted to comment that my son (who reads mostly fantasy, we sort of swap books now and then)... read Fer-de-Lance and did not care for it at all. Recently he read the second book, The League of Frightened Gentlemen, and liked that one a lot better. But it is possible that you just don't care for the style in Rex Stout and the attitudes are really old fashioned. Sometimes I wonder if I would have liked the books at all if I had started reading them later in life.

I recently re-read The Golden Spiders, which was about the 9th book in the series, and I noticed that one was about half the length of the first novels. There are other US mystery writers from that time that write very differently.

Cath said...

Tracy: I'll continue to read the Rex Stout books as I never think a first book in any series is typical of the whole series. Often they improve and it's always to best to give them another chance.

Yes, I think I saw your review of The Golden Spiders and left a comment. That's definitely one I want to read.

Bev Hankins said...

Sayers is such a good author. She even makes it easy to learn everything you never knew you needed to know about bell ringing. :-)

Cath said...

Bev: I know... crazy isn't it???