Thursday 6 February 2014

Vintage Crime reads

Goodness this is my 500th post for this book blog! What a journey it's been and by and large I feel very glad that I took the plunge and started blogging here six years ago. I've met some delightful people who I now consider to be firm friends. Sadly, since I started, some whom I met back then no longer blog and I always feel the loss when they give up. Luckily, many are still here and blogging about books is still something I love and would not give up for anything.

All that said, I've turned off anonymous comments for this blog. It's only the spammers that seem to use it and they're getting be a real nuisance once again. If it turns out to have some kind of consequence I hadn't considered then I'll turn it on again but in the meantime it's off I'm afraid.

Anyway, for this post I'm doing two shorter reviews of vintage crime books. First up, Have His Carcase by Dorothy L. Sayers. This is my second book for the Vintage Crime Challenge which is being hosted by Bev at My Reader's Block and covers the category for 'A book set in England'. It's also my 5th. book for Bev's Mount TBR challenge.

After the events of Strong Poison, where Harriet Vane was tried for murder, and following the success of her new crime book, Harriet Vane is in need of a holiday. She chooses a walking holiday on the South West coast of England. Stopping on a beautiful beach for a picnic lunch and a nap she wakes to discover a body just around the headland. The body is wedged into a large rock called The Flat-iron and it's fresh, clearly a very recent suicide or murder. The police are inclined to think 'suicide' but Lord Peter Wimsey turns up the next day and confirms Harriet's suspicions that all is not as it should be. The dead man is a young dancer from a local hotel, but of Russian extraction. He's engaged to a much older woman who feels the Bolsheviks must be involved. But the case turns out to be much more complicated than that. Several male suspects are involved and one of the most crucial things is 'timing'. If the dancer was murdered who had a cast-iron alibi? All of them it turns out. This is the most complicated case Lord Peter Wimsey has come across and it takes the combined efforts of himself, Harriet, and the local police to bring it to a satisfactory conclusion.

I think I can honestly say, without a shadow of a doubt, that this is one of the best crime books I've ever read. It's long, 444 pages, and that's quite lengthy for a crime yarn, especially a vintage one as far as I know. But it just didn't seem that long while I was reading, it fair galloped along plot-wise, a real page-turner. I loved how complicated it was. I didn't always follow the cipher stuff towards the end but that's OK, I like to be mentally stretched and it told me a lot about such things which is always good. It was also hugely funny. The dialogue is very witty and really just a joy... huge fun to read what is quite a serious crime book but to find it doesn't take itself *too* seriously. I felt Dorothy Sayers knew the SW coast rather well. The atmosphere of a sleepy coastal village in that area - I'm guessing Devon but am not positive - was spot on as were the accents and attitudes of the locals ie: being suspicious of strangers. Most of all what I loved about this book was the two main characters, Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane. Their relationship is a joy and the constant proposals of marriage from Wimsey, hilarious. All in all this was just such a brilliant read. I wouldn't be at all surprised if it doesn't make my top ten at the end of the year.

Next up, Lock 14 by Georges Simenon:

A body is found in a stable attached to an eating place on the towpath of a canal near Dizy in France. It's under the hay and two men have slept beside it, not knowing it was there. Maigret arrives to investigate and finds the case to be very difficult to understand. It seems impossible that anyone could physically commit the murder as the towpath is difficult to get onto from the road and shifting the body would have been nigh on impossible. The dead woman is the wife of an English ex-army colonel. She's been living aboard a yacht with her husband and sundry other unsavoury looking people. None of them seem to care much about the dead woman and when Maigret gets wind of promiscuous goings on amongst the inhabitants of the boat he realises he needs to know a lot more about who this woman actually is. It's extremely complicated and Maigret is hard put to decide whether the key to the woman's murder is to be found aboard the yacht or among the bargees, carters and lock-keepers who use this canal.

I seem to be on a bit of a Maigret kick at the moment. These vintage crime stories are little gems and ideal fodder for the Vintage Crime challenge. This one covers the category - 'A mystery that involves water'. Anyway, this was a very enjoyable crime yarn. Beautiful atmosphere of the canal, the people who live and work on it and the conditions they worked under in France in the 1930s. The mystery was as complicated as the previous Maigret book I read, The Yellow Dog, with lots of unknown information which the reader is slowly drip-fed. I loved the image of Maigret on his bike pedalling away for forty miles to try and catch up with a barge. I don't know why I was so amused by that but I was.

One thing you do need to remember about these books (both of the ones reviewed here in fact) is that they are set in the 1930s and as such, times were different and much less pc than we are today. Thus people get called names that we wouldn't perhaps consider acceptable now. It worries some people I know, but for me it's written history and although I might blanch a bit it's not a problem. I would never want the books updated to be more pc in any way shape or form.

I have to say that I'm thoroughly enjoying the reading challenges I'm doing this year and if I continue the way I've begun am hoping to end the year having done quite well with them. Fingers crossed.



DesLily said...

wow! you are just speed reading your way thru books !! lol.. Have His Carcase sounds really good! I am glad you are finding all good books this year!! Just finished a book myself and looking thru my shelves and shelves and shelves of tbr books to see whats next lol..

Kailana said...

hm. I honestly can't remember if I have anonymous comments on or off. I change it so much. I should check because I know that one of my old, obsolete blogs is getting spammed to death!

BooksPlease said...

Congrats on the 500th post!

What a different place the world was in the 1930s! I haven't read Have His Carcase, I'll certainly look out for a copy!

I read Lock 14 a few years ago and loved its complications which even Maigret found confusing! Simenon drew such an atmospheric picture of the gloomy canal world in the pouring rain.

I was getting loads of spam a while back, which wordpress caught before they went on the blog - including your non-spam comments too! Thankfully, it seems to have calmed down at the moment with just a small number in the spam box.

GeraniumCat said...

Congratulations, Cath!

I love Have His Carcase - not quite as much as Gaudy Night, but nearly. I keep hearing bits of it on Radio 4 Extra in the middle of the night, which is quite fun, but it's one of those special books that I actually remember reading for the first time because it was SO good. And that was around the time I got married, which shows how impressed I was!

Penny O'Neill said...

Congratulations on 500 posts! Well done, Cath, and please, don't ever stop blogging. Although I might not always comment, I do read you, add books upon books to my list, and enjoy your input. Have His Carcase is now on that list!

Hope the rains have abated, though suspect you may still get part of the next blast of snow we are expecting tomorrow. What a winter this has been.

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

Hi Cath,

Congratulations on your 500th and long may read_warbler continue!

I hope that your little corner of Devon has escaped any serious damage and disruption in this continuous pounding we are having from the elements. Luckily we are quite a distance away from the Somerset Levels and on much higher, drier ground, although the lower lying parts of the town have suffered a little I believe.

I love these 1930's crime stories, with their rather eccentric cast of characters and almost 'staged' storylines, although I do enjoy Lord Peter Wimsey, slightly more than Inspector Maigret.

Some of the re-prints of these classics are sporting fabulous new covers, although I always love to get copies of the original books, when they are donated into the charity shop. It is always such a shame that they are rarely in a saleable condition, although that just goes to prove that they have been well read and enjoyed by their owner!

Thanks for the trip down memory lane and have a great weekend,


Cath said...

Pat: I think it's down to there being not much on the TV at the moment. The best programmes are on in the autumn and after Christmas they all disappear and we turn the box off and read.

Kelly: The spam comments have completely dried up so it works!

Margaret: Thank you.

Yes, very different and yet in some ways, their worries and concerns etc., very much the same. It's odd. Have His Carcase is well worth keeping an eye out for.

It seems the Maigret books specialise in complicated situations. And yes, 'very' atmospheric.

Geranium Cat: Thank you! :-)

Yes, it's the kind of book you remember, it's that well written and its sense of place just perfect. Of course it helped that I know the SW coastline rather well.

Penny: Thank you, and also for your kind words. Have His Carcase is one I would recommend unreservedly.

No the rains have not abated. It's almost biblical now. We're getting storm after storm flying across the Atlantic. It's all rather peculiar, I don't remember a winter like it.

Thanks, Yvonne!

We're OK here in Tiverton as, like you, we're a bit of distance from the levels and it's not flat here really. We lost part of a fence in the storm early this week, which is a nuisance but nothing compared to what's happened to the people on the levels or on the front at Dawlish or Looe. Just terrible. Glad to hear you too are OK.

I think I probably like Wimsey more than Maigret too but both are good, Wimsey being a long involved sort of read and Maigret being a short sharp hit.

I like the older copies too, but you're right there are some wonderful new copies, especially for the classic 19th. century writers.

Hope you have a nice weekend too and are not affected by the next storm coming in this afternoon.

Bev Hankins said...

Congrats on your 500th post!

I do love Lord Peter and the Sayers books--so what an awesome post for a milestone.

Peggy Ann said...

Congrats Cath! Book bloggers are the best people anywhere! I enjoyed both your reviews. You always do such a nice job. I have not read either of these but will someday.

Cath said...

Bev: Thank you! Yes, an appropiately wonderful author for a milestone post. I can't believe it's taken me until I'm 60 to discover how good DLS is...

Peggy: Thank you. I think they are too. Thank you, I'm hardly an academic kind of reviewer so all I can do is try to transmit my enthusiasm for books any which way I can. :-)

Nan said...

You are just zooming with your reading!! I'm amazed. Haven't read HHC yet, but it is on my shelf. SO happy you are blogging. Always a treat to come here and visit.

Cath said...

Nan: We have so much wet weather here in the UK that the best thing to do is stay in and read. Which does mean I'm galloping along with my reading. I hope you enjoy HHC when you get to it, I think you'll like the very English coastal setting.

Thank you, you're so kind. Do you ever hear from Kay? If you do please say 'hello' for me. I hope she's doing well.

Susan said...

Congratulations on your 500th post, Cath. Well done! I'm happier to hear that you want to continue blogging, too, that you love it and all the friends you are making and books you are discovering. I'm so delighted to have met you. One of the best things about blogging is all the wonderful, interesting people we meet the world over, I find.

Cath said...

Thanks, Susan! I completely agree that one of the best things about blogging is the people you meet. It's the reason I couldn't give it up as I would miss you all too much. And also, it's just so much FUN! And nice that most of us are also on FB too, where we continue the madness. ;-)))))