A sense of place is very important to me when I'm reading and the anthology, Capital Crimes: London Mysteries, edited by Martin Edwards, has that in spades. I've had it on my tbr pile for three or four years and was inspired to read it at last because of Martin Edwards' Golden Age of Murder, which I'm about halfway through. Capital Crimes is my book 21 for Bev's Mount TBR 2020
There are 17 stories in all in this collection, many of them feature the particular author's regular detective. I'll do a brief rundown of each one:
1. The Case of Lady Sannox - Arthur Conan Doyle. A famous surgeon is having an affair with Lady Sannox. About to go to an assignation with her, he's called out by a Turkish man whose wife has cut her lip on a poisoned dagger and is about to expire. Nice twist.
2. A Mystery of the London Underground - John Oxenham. A serial killer is loose on the London Underground. It's necessary to suspend disbelief a bit here and I couldn't.
3. The Finchley Puzzle - Richard Marsh. The detective here is lip-reader, Judith Lee. Someone's trying to kill her because she's helping the police catch too many criminals. I found this one a trifle unlikely too.
4. The Magic Casket - R. Austin Freeman. His detective is Dr. John Thorndyke whom I've come across before. A story of a lost handbag and Japanese gang crime in London. Fun but slightly confusing.
5. The Holloway Flat Tragedy - Ernest Bramah. His detective is Max Carrados, who is blind. This one's a tale of adultery and murder, quite clever.
6. The Magician of Cannon Street - J.S. Fletcher. Paul Campenhaye is the amateur sleuth here. This one is all about catching a master criminal who has eluded his pursuers for years.
7. The Stealer of Marble - Edgar Wallace. The moral of this one is beware anyone who's pinching your marble chippings!
8. The Tea Leaf - Robert Eustace & Edgar Jepsom. Did the man who had a row with another man in a Turkish bath actually kill him before he left?
9. The Hands of Mr. Ottermole - Thomas Burke. For me, this was one of the standout stories in this anthology. Someone is knocking off innocent people in the dark alleyways of the East End of London. It's cleverly told by a narrator telling a story or 'suggesting' how a series of events might have gone. It's creepy, very atmospheric, I did guess the culprit but it didn't spoil it as I had no idea if I was right. Excellent writing, loved it. I gather this used to be a very well-known and respected crime story and I can see why.
10. The Little House - H.C. Bailey. Another standout story. The detective is amateur, Reggie Fortune. An old lady comes to see him about the loss of her grand-daughter's kitten. The police had not been interested when she told them it had wandered into nextdoor's garden and a ragged, small girl had come out and snatched it up. On enquiry the neighbours had said that there was no small girl living there and no kitten. It frightens Fortune and he has to investigate. Very well written, alarming, creepy story.
11. The Silver Mask - Hugh Walpole. The best story in the collection in my opinion. It made my blood run cold but then he is the author of my favourite supernatural story, Tarnhelm. A woman is stopped outside her house by someone down on his luck. She suffers, as the author describes it, from 'impulsive kindness'. She invites him in, gives him food and money and expects never to see him again. Only that's not what happens... Chilling.
12. Wind in the East - Henry Wade. The detective here is Inspector John Poole. Two brothers run a business. One is top dog and acts like it. He dies of course but whodunnit? This is more of a howdunnit.
13. The Avenging Chance - Anthony Berkeley. Another alternative ending to The Poisoned Chocolate Case that I reviewed last week.
14. They Don't Wear Labels - E.M. Delafield. The narrator of this story takes in paying guests, a lodging house I presume. A Mr. and Mrs. Peverelli arrive, he's popular among the other guests, she isn't. The husband says his wife doesn't keep the best of health, is fragile. She tells the owner of the establishment that he's trying to poison her. The owner accuses the wife of being hysterical and making things up. But is she? This was a decent story from the writer of The Diary of a Provincial Lady. I had no idea that she was a writer of crime fiction and a member of The Detection Club.
15. The Unseen Door - Margery Allingham. This a short but effective Albert Campion story about a man murdered at his club, but no one could have done it...
16. Cheese - Ethel Lina White. This involves a serial murderer who's getting away with it. A young woman is used as bait to catch him but it all goes wrong... Very good 'edge of your seat' type yarn.
17. You Can't Hang Twice - Anthony Gilbert. Very atmospheric story of London in one of those famous pea-soupers. Arthur Crook is the amateur detective. Someone calls him, terrified for his life. Crook tells him to cross London in the fog, hoping he won't be attacked on the way. Foggy London town is a very real character in this.
This quote from The Magic Casket - by R. Austin Freeman pretty much sums up this anthology:
"London is an inexhaustable place," he mused. "Its variety is infinite. A minute ago we walked in a glare of light, jostled by a multitude. And now look at this little street. It is as dim as a tunnel, and we have got it absolutely to ourselves. Anything might happen in a place like this."
I think that sums up many of the tales in this collection and I feel that's what attracts a lot of people to books set in say Victorian or Edwardian London. It's a dense, secretive place with an infinite amount of history and stories to recount. We haven't been for years but used to go every couple of years and that feeling of centuries of history and secrets oozes out of every nook and cranny. As with every anthology the quality of the stories varies. A couple left me a bit cold, most of the others were good and a handful were superb. That said, the quality of the writing in every case is top-notch. Back then they expressed themselves intelligently and never dumbed down their writing, which does seem to happen quite a lot these days. This is definitely one of the better BLCC anthologies I've read, a keeper.