Two 'catching up' reviews today. First up, Serpents in Eden: Countryside Crimes edited by Martin Edwards.
"You look at these scattered houses, and you are impressed by their beauty. I look at them, and the only thought which comes to me is a feeling of their isolation and of the impunity with which crime may be committed there. They always fill me with a certain horror. It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside."
And these stories, naturally, prove his point. The collection includes stories by some well known authors, G.K. Chesterton, Arthur Conan Doyle, Margery Allingham, Gladys Mitchell and some not so famous ones. Glancing at the notes I made as I read each one (otherwise by the time I get to the end I've forgotten what I read at the start) it seems, in general, that I liked the lesser known authors better. E.C Bentley's The Genuine Tabard told of an American couple visiting a quaint English village and buying an ancient herald's tabard off the vicar. But is it genuine? I liked The Long Barrow by H.C. Bailey for its archaeological bent and rather creepy atmosphere, R. Austin Freeman's The Naturalist at Lew was a clever story about a man being found dead in a ditch and how something as simple as duckweed is not actually simple at all! A Proper Mystery by Margery Allingham was not a murder story, it was about rivalry in village shows and I loved it. Inquest by Leonora Wodehouse (P.G.'s neice) was a story about a big house and will changing and had an excellent twist at the end, and The Scarecrow by Ethel Lina White about an ex-boyfriend who tries to strangle his girlfriend, is locked up in an asylum, escapes, and is coming to get her, was genuinely scary.
All in all, this was an excellent anthology. A well chosen selection, each one beautifully written, which is what I love about these vintage crime short stories or novels: although it does spoil you a bit for some of the modern stuff which is not as well crafted in my opinion.
Lastly, Absent in the Spring by Mary Westmacott (a pseudonym of Agatha Christie's). This is my fourth book for the What's In A Name? reading challenge which is being hosted by The Worm Hole. It covers the category, 'A Season'.
It turns out that the only thing Joan can do to while away the time is to think. Not just vague thoughts but serious, introspective thinking about her life. She's one of these people who're able to ignore realities or simply don't see what's happening in front of them. She thinks she has the perfect life, the perfect family, but we all know nothing is ever as it seems and so it turns out to be. It might sound like a quite a boring plot for a book, a woman stranded in the desert 'thinking'... but it's not at all. Slowly but surely Joan's personality is revealed and the way in which her husband and children have learned to deal with her and keep things hidden. The writing is quite masterful to be honest, the reader starts out thinking that this is just rather a smug woman but we're drip fed information and eventually realise that there's a real story to be told here, sad and tragic in its own quiet way. And one that really makes you think about your own life and things you might have done or said... or ignored because it's too difficult to think about. I read this because I saw Margaret's review here and like her I feel I really must find more of the six books Agatha Christie wrote as Mary Westmacott.