Friday 6 July 2018

Blood on the Tracks

When I heard, via Martin Edwards's excellent blog, that the BLCC were bringing out a volume of vintage crime short stories based on railways I was delighted. I'm not a railway buff, let's get that straight, but for some strange reason I really enjoy ghost or crime stories set on trains. I've read several by Agatha Christie and as ITV3 are currently showing old Poirots I've recently 'seen' a couple too. Love them. So, Blood on the Tracks, edited by Martin Edwards, was an obvious buy for me and I've been reading it over the last few weeks.

A quick run-down of the stories:

1. The Man With the Watches - Arthur Conan-Doyle. A man is found dead in a railway carriage with six watches on him. The solution to this comes via a letter to the narrator, explaining everything. Slightly underwhelmed by this one.

2. The Mystery of Felwyn Tunnel - L.T. Meade & Robert Eustace. This is a tale of a mysteriously dead signalman, the body found at the mouth of a railway tunnel. When another man dies in similar circumstances people suspect a supernatural cause. Excellent story, well written and slightly creepy.

3. How He Cut His Stick - Matthew McDonnell Bodkin. A bank employee is robbed of £5,000 on a train, it seems an impossible crime but female investigator, Dora Myrl, eventually works out how it was done. Not bad but didn't get a strong sense of the detective.

4. The Mysterious Death on the Underground Railway - Baroness Orczy. One of series based on 'The Man in the Corner' who apparently sits in a café telling 'Polly' how murders were committed. This one involves a woman who's been killed on the undergound. Quite good.

5. The Affair of the Corridor Express - Victor L. Whitechurch. The son of a millionaire is kidnapped while on a train. An expert on train timetables works out how it was done. Another impossible crime with an ingenious solution.

6. The Case of Oscar Brodski - R. Austin Freeman. Silas Hickler, a crooked dealer in diamonds, kills a man he knows is carrying a stash of them on him. Will he get away with it or will two doctors, using scientific methods, manage to catch him? This long story was an excellent read. I liked how the murder featured at the beginning, so we know what's happened, and then we get to observe the detectives try to catch him. I've just bought four books by this author as a job lot for my Kindle for £1.99. Bargain!

7. The Eighth Lamp - Roy Vickers. An underground railway worker is absolutely terrified when he's given the job of closing up the station last thing at night. It's turning out that last light and being momentarily in the dark that unnerves him. Why? Excellent little supernatural story.

8. The Knight's Cross Signal Problem - Ernest Bramel. The cause of a nasty accident is in question. The driver of the train swears the signal was green and indicated he could go, the signalman swears it was not so. What's going on?

9. The Unsolved Puzzle of the Man With No Face - Dorothy L. Sayers. On a train journey, Lord Peter Wimsey joins in a discussion with the people in the carriage. A body has been found on a local beach, the face all bashed in, who is it and how was he killed? Terrific story this, Dorothy L. Sayers is not one of the best known female crime authors for nothing. Love how she does the speech of the common man.

10. The Railway Carriage - F. Tennyson Jesse. Solange Fontaine is only just in time to catch her train. Already in the carriage are two very odd people indeed... This is an excellent little supernatural story that works very well.

11. The Mystery of the Slip-Coach - Sapper. A man is found dead in a railway carriage. Four other occupants swear they didn't kill him and obviously didn't, so who did? Nice little 'impossible crime' story.

13. The Adventure of the First Class Carriage - Ronald Knox. This is a Sherlock Holmes story by an author other than ACD. A housekeeper comes to see Sherlock Holmes about her employers. She's worried that the husband is about do away with the wife. Quite a good story which I've read before somewhere.

14. Murder on the 7.16 - Michael Innes. Quirky little story about a body found on a film set train. Innes is famous for his John Appleby series of crime books and this is a good short story featuring that detective. I need to read a few of the novels I think.

15. The Coulman Handicap - Michael Gilbert. The police in London are watching a middle-aged woman who they know is acting as a carrier for stolen jewellry. They plan to catch her using The Underground. Enjoyed this one as it was slightly different.

I've read a few of these BLCC short story collections and this one ranks as one of the best. Possibly I'm slightly biased by the subject, I don't know, but there were only a few stories that I found 'average' the rest I thought were very good indeed. In particular The Unsolved Mystery of the Man With No Face by Dorothy L. Sayers, The Mystery of Felwyn Tunnel by L.T. Meade and Robert Eustace and The Case of Oscar Brodski by R. Austin Freeman. These three really stood out for me, partly because they were different in some way but also the writing was superb. Mind you, *all* of the stories are well written as I have come to expect from vintage crime books and short stories. I particularly like that at the beginning of each story Martin Edwards writes a little about the author and what he was famous for writing. Staggering how many of these authors were hugely popular in their time but are completely unknown now. A real shame. Thank goodness for the British Library in bringing these authors back in these delightful books.



DesLily said...

Well, it does sound like you enjoy your short stories.. and your posts!! love you sis!

Cath said...

Pat, funnily enough I wouldn't call myself a short story fan. LOL But I realised I'd got quite a few books of them (easily a dozen) to read. Then my lovely grand-daughter gave me a couple of notebooks for my birthday, and I decided to use the Harry Potter one to make a quick note about each story as I read it. That makes it much easier to do a book review... otherwise by the time I get to the end I can't remember anything about the first stories. LOL!!!

BooksPlease said...

Lovely post, Cath. I like the way you comment on each story - it was a good idea to make a quick note about each story - I mean to do this, but rarely do. Short story collections are usually a mixed bag for me and generally I don't enjoy the really short ones, feeling a bit let down at the end. So, with so many that you liked I'm looking forward to reading this now - I have a Kindle copy.

TracyK said...

This does sound like a good set of stories, and I have always liked mysteries that involve trains. I will be looking out for this book. And I will be interested to see what you think of the novels by R. Austin Freeman. I haven't read anything by that author.

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

I am not a huge fan of short stories, as I find they generally fail to have the three elements I always look for as the sign of a good story - An opening which draws me in and makes me want to keep on reading, a strong mid storyline and a definitive ending. However, some of the authors featured in this collection, are such classic writers of their time, that I don't really see me being disappointed.

Whilst train stories aren't a genre I would actively set out to read, I have featured a series I enjoyed, which was recommended by a fellow blogging friend, 'The Railway Detective' by Edward Marston and then of course there was the great Agatha Christie classic 'Murder On The Orient Express'.

I always have a notebook and pen handy when reading, so that I can jot down notes and comments as I go. I have become something of a notebook junkie now, although some of the really lovely ones are just so expensive, for quick jottings and scribbles.

Nice post, thanks for sharing :)


Vintage Reading said...

Good to see that Dorothy L Sayers is on your mind, too. Although I've read Gaudy Night many times I haven't read her other novels and short stories. (I'm reading Strong Poison right now - any recommendations would be welcome).

Judith said...

What a review, Cath--I'm taking note. Our library system has a few of the British Library books, but not this one. I may find it through the New York Public Library (NYC) ebook system. Have you read Fire in the Thatch: A Devon Mystery or Bats in the Belfry, which is set in London? Amazon tossed those two my way when I was searching for this one.

Our heat wave broke on Friday, overnight into Saturday. It's been a nice sunny weekend in the mid-70s to 82.

Cath said...

Margaret: I've found that making a small note about each story is a real aid to reviewing these anthologies, otherwise I'm completely at sea when it comes to writing something about the book. I hope you enjoy it when you get to it.

Tracy: I'd never even heard of R. Austin Freeman if I'm honest. So nice to discover a new author when you're reading a short story collection... in a way that's what they're for.

Yvonne: I do know what you mean about short stories being a bit disappointing, one or two in this collection were like that, but the vast majority were excellent.

I must admit I do love the books AC set on trains, she used them quite a lot. And as ITV3 have been repreating a lot of Poirots, I've managed to catch two 'train' ones.

Oh gosh, I love notebooks too but until my grand-daughter gave me two for my b/day I'd not thought of having a designated one for short stories. Turns out it's ideal!

Nicola, I put some DLS recs on your latest post which I'm sure you've seen. The short story by her in this collection was so good. Particularly the lovely conversation in the train at the start, which LPW was reluctantly drawn into. DLS was so good at dialogue.

Judith: Glad you enjoyed my scribblings. No, I haven't read Fire in the Thatch yet but definitely plan to. I have a lot of BLCC books on my tbr pile and one on the library pile so I'm sell stocked. LOL!

So pleased your heatwave has broken. We've had a couple of cooler days, it's warming up again for the weekend, and then a change for next week apparently. I sincerely hope so... the countryside's turning yellow and not just the corn. Horrible.