Sunday 4 October 2020

Two vintage crime titles

So I'm currently reading Martin Edwards' book, The Golden Age of Murder, about vintage crime authors and the beginning's of the Detection Club. It's fascinating stuff and what a motley bunch crime authors were back then. Well they probably are now too but that was well before the age of politcal correctness and there were some very varied opinions and lifestyles which were hushed up back then but which no one would think twice about now. Well, not perhaps some of the opinions... One of the authors Martin Edwards mentions a lot is Anthony Berkeley who was one of the founding members of the Detection Club, along with the likes of Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie. He was definitely one of the 'characters' and, realising I'd not read anything by him, I got The Poisoned Chocolates Case off the shelf and read it.

A box of chocolates arrives at a London club, for one its members. He passes them on to another member for his wife. She eats said chocolates and promptly expires. The chocolates were clearly poisoned but by whom and who was the intended victim? Scotland Yard's inquiries grind to a halt so Chief Inspector Moresby, on a guest visit to a meeting of Roger Sheringham's Crime Circle, passes the case over to its six members to see if they can solve the mystery. When I started to read this one the style was novel and intriguing. Six crime experts - writers, playwrights, amateur detectives - all vying against each other to find the truth of this mysterious murder. It's beautifully written with humour and pulls no punches with character assassinations of each of the main characters. I think the author based one or two of them on people he actually knew in the Detection Club. The trouble with it was that I became a bit bored with constant denouements. It seems I like them at the end of a crime yarn, but not all the way through. Nevertheless, a very good read and I will read more by Anthony Berkeley when I come across them. Not sure how likely that is.

I discovered author, Michael Gilbert, when I read one of his short stories in one of the BLCC anthologies. Then I read Death in Captivity last year and thought it was superb. Tracy at Bitter Tea and Mystery did a post about one of his books recently, reminding me how much I enjoyed his writing so I ordered a couple of books and Close Quarters was one of them.

The Dean of Melchester has a problem. He thought if he ignored it it might go away but poisoned pen letters don't tend to conveniently do that. So he asks his nephew, Sergeant Robert Pollock, currently working at Scotland Yard, to come for a few days holiday to see if he can get to the bottom of the mystery. Pollock quickly realises that this is a Cathedral Close crime. The Close is peopled mainly with Reverands, Canons and other sundry people who work in the cathedral, none of whom seem likely to be the author of these nasty letters. Murder changes his mind somewhat and realising he's out of his depth his boss, Inspector Hazlerigg, arrives from London to help find the murderer. I do love a cathedral based whodunnit or ghost story, doubtless why I'm such a fan of M.R. James. This one reminded me of all the old cathedrals I've visited that have very old closes around them or  nearby, and always so beautiful and historically atmospheric. Very clever to use one as a base for a horrible murder, emphasising the point that the potential to murder someone is not confined to lay people. This is the first of the Inspector Hazlerigg books, of which I think there are six (he wrote several other series and quite a few standalones). Two have been reissued by the BLCC, Smallbone Deceased, which I read recently and Death Has Deep Roots which I've not yet read. The large cast of characters in Close Quarters did make it a challenge to remember who was who but it's so beautifully written, with wonderful humour, that it didn't matter and I happily gave it five stars on Goodreads. I shall be reading many more of Michael Gilbert's crime novels.


Sam said...

Both of these sound like lots of fun, but I think I'm even more interested in reading the book on vintage crime authors that you reference. That one sounds "enlightening."

Yvonne @ Fiction Books Reviews said...

Hi Cath,

You know me! Any crime book that I haven't come across before, is heading for my list!

I really have to get myself some kind of schedule for catching up with Martin Edwards's books, as I have quite a few saved in various places now, but have still yet to actually read any of them, and I just know he might well become one of my favourite authors.

I can't believe what a prolific author Martin is too - There is another new Christmas Anthology out for this year and next year he is diversifying a little into a book of poetry!

Thanks for sharing and keeping nudging me about all these brilliant authors and books I am missing out on :)

Yvonne xx

Nan said...

I so love these old books. Right now, I'm thinking I can never read enough Lorac - though I'm going to use her real name - Edith Rivett! I just finished the Fell Murder book and am now on Bats in the Belfry.
I own the ME book but haven't read it yet. I have dipped in to read about certain authors, though.

Lark said...

The Poisoned Chocolates Case is one I found at a used library book sale for 25 cents. And I thought it was a fun read...not a flawless 5-star read, and definitely not on the par of an Agatha Christie...but still fun. :)

Cath said...

Sam: 'Enlightening' is the right word for The Golden Age of Murder. It really is absolutely fascinating and well worth anybody's time. The only problem is I know it's going to cost me money as I acquire some of the books and authors he talks about.

Yvonne: Yes, I think Martin Edwards definitely has the potential to become anyone's favourite author, or one of them. With all the writing and editing he does he must be a very busy man. He goes around to a lot of Crimefic literary festivals too I gather. I bet he's interesting to listen to. Perhaps after all this pandemic business is over I'll make the effort to go to one of these events.

Nan: I love all these old books too and seem to be going through a real phase of reading a lot of them at the moment. I think I find them an escape from the real world and all that's happening.

I like E.C.R. LOrac too. I've read several by her, Fell Murder being one of them, so good. I have Bats in the Belfry to read and Murder in the Mill-Race. Oh, and Policemen in the Precinct. So I have a few to be going on with.

Lark: And I got The Poisoned Chocolates Case from a Medical Centre's secondhand book room for 50p so I think we both did pretty well. LOL!

CLM said...

I've also been enjoying The Golden Age of Murder but slowly over the last several years when I was in the mood. I was surprised by how many authors I was unfamiliar with but the British Library series is helping me get to know them.

Susan said...

If someone wanted to kill me, poisoned chocolates would definitely be the best method. I wouldn't hesitate to eat them! At least I would die happy ...

TracyK said...

Cath, I think you have talked me into starting a Michael Gilbert book right away. Thanks very much for the mention.

You have reminded me how I loved Close Quarters. If I had another book in that series, I would choose that.

I think the problem you mentioned with the Anthony Berkeley book is why I haven't sought it out. But I should read that book or another by him someday.

I actually stopped by with a question about Carola Dunn, but I am going to look around your blog and come back and ask later.

gluten Free A_Z Blog said...

The Michael Gilbert book sounds really good! Thanks for the review. It's on my list!

Cath said...

Constance: I've really been surprised at how many of these authors I've never heard of. So I've been reading 'Capital Crimes' an anthology full of Golden Age authors and their London based mystery stories and have been pleasantly surprised at how much more I enjoyed the stories once I knew something about the authors.

Susan: Same here! LOL

Tracy: I'm definitely going to search out more in the Inspector Hazlerigg series. Gilbert has such a unique way of writing and I've loved the three or four books I've read by him.

Anthony Berkeley sounds like he was quite a complicated character so I would definitely be interested in reading more by him. I think The Poisoned Chocolate Case is the most famous but there were a lot more.

What was the question you had about Carola Dunn?

Judee: The Michael Gilbert book was indeed excellent. Thanks for stopping by.

Rosemary said...

Another very interesting post Cath.

I have read about the Martin Edwards book but now I think I must have it - as you say, where does he find the time?

I have struggled with quite a few of the British Crime Classics. I'm not sure if it's them or me, but so far Sergeant Cliff Stands Firm, The Sussex Downs Murder, The Hog's Back Murders and Death on the Cherwell have all left me a bit unimpressed.

Michael Gilbert sounds great though! I love books set in Cathedral Closes - Susan Howatch's Starbridge series is a favourite of mine, and I also enjoyed Joanna Trollope's The Choir. And of course some of Barbara Pym's novels are very much dominated by Church of England clergy - Some Tame Gazelle, Excellent Women, and the wonderful A Glass of Blessings. Another favourite book of mine is The Towers of Trebizond, which is full of High Church references (many of which no doubt went straight over my head), and features the brilliantly named Father Chantry-Pigg.

I wonder if a book set in a Cathedral would be as popular now? But then PD James set at least one of hers in a seminary, and that was well received.

How's your garden in this wet and windy weather? My little patch is looking decidedly bedraggled, and I must make the time to tidy it up before the clocks change - by December it will be dark here by 3.30pm.


TracyK said...

Since I commented, I have read another Michael Gilbert book, and I finished it in two days and loved it. It is Sky High (alternate title The Country House Burglar) and it had all the elements I have loved in some of his stories: a bit of romance, very interesting characters, great plot and surprising ending.

Regarding Carola Dunn's books, I was wondering if you though it was important to read them in order. I have read the first one and have the second one to read. The others I have are: #5, Damsel in Distress; #11, Mistletoe and Murder; and #17, Black Ship. I hate to skip around when I know the relationships change over time, but it would take a while to fill in all the books.

Cath said...

Rosemary: I think the BLCC books vary quite a lot. Some, as you say, are rather pedestrian and you can understand why they've disappeared into obscurity. Others are really quite good. I've enjoyed authors such as E.C.R. Lorac, Freeman Wills Crofts (I quite liked The Hog's Back Mystery personally) and Michael Gilbert. Others such as John Bude and George Bellairs are very variable in my opinion. I've also noticed with me that a lot can depend on where the book is set. I liked The Hog's Back Mystery I think because I read it straight after we got back from a long weekend in Surrey where it's set. I'd been very enamoured of the prettiness of that county and further south into Sussex. As soon as this wretched pandemic is behind us we'll be off again.

Thank you *so* much for the 'cathedral close' and 'cathedral' recommendations. I looked all over Goodreads for such a list but no one's created one it seems. Perhaps I need to start a shelf on there. I think Trollope's Barchester books could included, I've read two, need to get to Dr. Thorne soon. Probably you do need to be of a certain age or religious persuasion to have an interest in these kind of books. I come into the latter category!

The garden is looking decidedly 'bedraggled' (that's an excellent choice of words on your behalf.) I need to get out there and do some tidying but it's so big I feel daunted and end up doing nothing.

Tracy: It seems Michael Gilbert's books are a bit unputdownable. I certainly couldn't stop reading Close Quarters. I just had a look at Sky High on Fantastic Fiction and it sounds excellent. I shall try to read that soon. My problem here is going to be not gobbling his entire output up at once.

The only reason to read Daisy Dalrymple in order is probably to do with her relationship with Alex. And as it's fairly easy to see where that's going it probably doesn't matter if you read them out of order. The problem, as you say, is that there are now so many of them and it will be an expensive business to catch up. I was lucky and got a load very cheaply from a cheap book outlet which no longer exists. How about the library?

Rosemary said...

Cath - what a great idea for a 'shelf' (I've never made one of those!) or even a blog post - cathedral/church recommendations!

And I know exactly what you mean about the garden. Mine is MUCH smaller than yours, but I have just been out there, it has been raining until the last hour, and all I did was rather pointlessly move some sodden pot plants into the mini greenhouse. Talk about closing the greenhouse door after the rain has stopped....Then I don't know where to start, so I just picked some parsley and retreated!

I got a whole set of another series from The Book People, and I do wish I'd bought more from them before they disappeared. I have, however, been surprised how many cheap books there are on ebay - I only recently realised that it actually sells books (no idea why I thought it didn't). I've just bought a copy of The Bachelor Brothers Bed & Breakfast (which I read years ago but wanted to read again) for very little on there. And all of those sets of books that The Book People used to sell must have gone somewhere.

A few of our libraries have now reopened, but no branches near here have done so, and I don't go far from home if I can help it (except for walks in remote places!)

TracyK said...

Cath, thanks for the feedback on the Daisy Dalrymple series. I am not in the habit of using the library much but I could certainly look into borrowing e-books that way. I also enjoyed Rosemary's list of cathedral books. I think I am drawn to such settings partly because of the community. My only experience with religious organizations was from my youth in a small Methodist congregation, and it was an interesting community, although not a physical setting.

CLM said...

I also liked the Susan Howatch Starbridge series although like may not be the correct word - while reading them I couldn't think about anything else but found nearly all the characters detestable and unconvincing (not to mention that when they speak, they go on for pages without taking a breath) I had to buy them all right away! I liked her other books too and was very disappointed when she stopped writing. Rosemary, I also really like the three-book series that Catherine Fox wrote that begins with Angels and Men. Fiction not a mystery. That resulted in my visiting Durham and Durham Cathedral a few years ago. I also like Kate Charles' mysteries, some of which take place in a close, as I recall. And, of course, Julia Spencer-Fleming's heroine is an unconventional Episcopalian minister; no close as they are set in upstate New York. I remember when I was studying for the bar exam and trying not to be distracted and my friend who was the mystery buyer at the Barnes & Noble bookstore chain leaned over the cubicle wall and said, "Did I hear you are trying not to read anything fun until the end of July?" and waved her newest book at me. Well, maybe I needed a break!

Cath, I don't know how your local television stations work but I just read there is going to be a du Maurier special on Friday night. I hope you get it as the scenery is bound to be amazing. I just wrote to my PBS station to request they show it eventually.

Rosemary said...

Hi CLM - thanks for the tip re Catherine Fox, of whom I had not heard; I will look her up immediately!

I think I have read a Kate Charles but I don't remember it being set in a close - but perhaps she has written several series?

And I keep meaning to read Julia Spencer-Fleming, I have an American librarian/blogger friend who often mentions her. Your friend clearly knew you well!

I looked up the Daphne du Maurier programme. I have seen one before - in fact it is still on BBC i-Player (, in which she was interviewed by the late Wilfred De'ath (a character in his own right if ever there was one) in 1971, but this looks like a different programme and I am keen to see it. It is on PBS America, which is a Freeview channel here, so I must remember to record it. Thanks so much for the heads up! My mother's best friend from primary school moved to Fowey many years ago and I spent quite a few summer holidays there. Our friends used to see Du Maurier pottering around the village, though I'm afraid I never caught a glimpse.

Cath said...

Rosemary: I've started my shelf on Goodreads and called it 'Ecclesiastical fiction'. I've only put 11 books on there so far but it's a work in progress as they say. It's here:

My copy of The Towers Trebizond arrived today. I'll be honest, I had not heard of it but the minute I read the synopsis on Goodreads I had to have a copy.

The Book People were brilliant, we used to get heaps of books from there and I loved getting their catalogues in the post. Funny, I never think these days to look on ebay for books, I used to but rather got out of the habit.

Tracy: Occasionally the Daisy books are cheap for Kindle on Amazon too, not sure if you have a Kindle.

Rosemary's list was great wasn't it? I ordered one book straightaway. LOL

Constance: Thanks for your recs too. I've read several of the Julia Spencer-Flemings and really enjoyed them.

I didn't spot the Daphne du Maurier doc. anywhere but did see an excellent one about Agatha Christie. It was one of her anniversaries last week. Nice to get bookish stuff on TV. It's rare.