Sunday, April 30, 2017

HAMLET,REVENGE - Michael Innes

"The murder was planned, deliberately and at obvious risk, to take place bang in the middle of a private performance of Hamlet.

Behind the scenes there were thirty-one suspects.  In the select and distinguished audience twenty-seven. 'Suspicions' said Appleby, 'crowd thick and fast upon us.' "

I read the first 50 odd pages and was on the verge of discarding this but as it's written in four parts- Prologue, Development, Denouement and Epilogue, I decided to hang in until Part 2.  I'm glad I did as the story picked up from there until a very good ending.

The trouble I found with Part 1 was that it is  99.9% about the setting up of this private 'Hamlet' performance at a grand country estate,  Having virtually no knowledge of anything Shakespearean the entire 75 pages was a struggle until as stated Part 2, where it becomes a standard 'who dunnit'.

Innes has created a good 'Inspector' with Mr Appleby who goes about his work with some humour and a lot of patience.  The second niggle however is the 'cast of thousands' that are suspect.  Even though the story is set in a castle bigger than Blenheim Palace thirty odd suspects is a bit many and gives the author the chance to pad the tale out with speculation.

This has a very good ending, with all the information in the story as how the crime is committed; the reader just has to pay attention keeping track of the movements of several dozen people.

Again, these English country estates are lethal, hardly a weekend seems to go by without a murder or two at one.

Michael Innes was the pseudonym of J.I.M. Stewart an academic of some note the author of several novels and biographies under his real name and the 'Appleby' crime series under this assumed name.

Friday, April 28, 2017


" Sir John Phillips, the Harley Street surgeon, and his beautiful nurse Jane Harden are almost too nervous to operate.  The emergency case on the table before them is the Home Secretary- and they both have very good, personal reasons to wish him dead.

Within hours he does die, although the operation was a complete success, and Chief Detective Inspector Alleyn must find out why....".

This is a good solid who dunnit from Ngaio Marsh, she writes very well and the cheat, i.e. the clue that would have given the reader a chance, is no where as outrageous as something Agatha Christie would throw in.  The reader can have an educated guess but without a bit of missing information , that's all it is,a guess.

As always, very entertaining for those of us who like our detective fiction from a simpler, more well mannered time.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

PIGEON PIE - Nancy Mitford

"At the outbreak of World War II, Lady Sophia Garfield dreamt of becoming a beautiful spy..

But she never imagined having to cope with a nest of German agents in her own home.

Or they would murder her maid, and hold her beloved bulldog hostage.."

This is very funny, not as sophisticated farce as her friend Evelyn Waugh was writing but still very good.  She has a good crack at the Upper Class and all religions, especially "Popery".

This was written in 1939 during the "phony war" period and Mitford apologizes in this second edition for any perceived flippancy.

This was Mitford's third book written before her two best known, "The Pursuit of Love " and " Love in a Cold Climate" and you can see with this effort she just about had the formula right.

Not a deep read but again an insight into the how the Upper class lived between the wars.

Sunday, April 23, 2017


"Hungry for adventure following the First World War, Captain Hugh "Bulldog" Drummond begins a career as the invincible protectorate of his country.  He is sent racing off to investigate what at first looks like blackmail but turns out to be more complicated and dangerous.  The rescue of a kidnapped millionaire, found with his thumbs horribly mangles, leads Drummond to the discovery of a political conspiracy of awesome scope and villainy, masterminded by the ruthless Carl Peterson".

This is very good, published in 1920 it is the first of this series and you can see why Ian Fleming used these Sapper books as a blue print for his James Bond.

There is of course  amazing luck for our hero and his associates but this is fiction so you go along for the ride. The criminal mastermind is here as is the "femme fatale" along with the love interest for the hero, great fun to read.

Something that surprises me is how violent these books are given their time but thinking about it many readers were only two years out of the trenches so these stories are nothing to what they will have experienced.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

PERIL AT END HOUSE - Agatha Christie

' Accident Number Four:  the bullet that missed her head by inches.

But the would be murderer makes a grave mistake- he shoots at his victim within a dozen yards of Hercule Poirot.

Published in 1932 this is an above average Christie, she has good humour and general banter between Poirot and Hastings.  This was written before she got sick of her hero and started writing by rote.  The plot is clever and doesn't have an outlandish Christie cheat.

I've been reading these since I was about thirteen,  some are dross , some are great stories but  they are never too taxing and an all round fun read at the end of a busy day.

Fun fact about this copy, its a 1973 edition and the previous owner has put a plastic cover on it  like dear old mum used to have to on the school exercise books, so it is pristine,-who ever it was was a total fan.

Monday, April 17, 2017

HARP - John Gregory Dunne

A memoir or the best conversation you will ever imagine.

This starts with Dunne receiving the dreaded 4.30 a.m. phone call informing him that one of his brothers has taken his own life.  He ruminates on his  and his brothers life, being the two youngest they were close.  This first stanza ends with:

"Stephen had a funeral mass with all the trimmings.  The priest who had christened him nearly forty-fours years earlier delivered the homily. I had hired a car and a driver and we left for New York and our flight back to Los Angeles a few hours after the service.  On the ride to the airport there was one terrible moment.  I started to doze in the back seat, and suddenly just before I feel asleep, I fought myself awake.  I wondered and wonder still, if poor Stephen, dear Stephen, had one last moment like that, one moment when he realized he was slipping away, one moment when he wanted it all back."

After read that, one of the saddest paragraphs I've ever read, I was hooked and went along for the journey.  Dunne is startling honest about his relationship with his family and the writers life.

He was ( deceased 2003) a relentless observer and note taker of his observations.  He revisits his notes recalling the time and place he made the notes.  Most never make it to a novel or screenplay or book but they are all important at the time and the explanation is fascinating.

This is a 10/10 and I recommend his novel "True Confessions" its one of the best.

Sunday, April 16, 2017


"Archie Goodwin, was invited to a lavish dinner party - even though the billionaire hostess did not have fond memories of him.  It was a casual evening among gorgeous society girls - until champagne became a murder weapon."

The usual high standard of banter between Wolfe and Goodwin with great subtle humour.  Its not in the top rank of Wolfe stories but its still better than most.

An excellent Easter Saturday read.

Friday, April 14, 2017


This revolves around Dr. Aziz  and three British citizens in India between the wars.

On a trip to the Marabar Caves one of the group, Miss Adela Quested believes she is sexually assaulted by Dr. Aziz who is subsequently arrested and put on trial.

His arrest and trial brings to the surface all the racism and prejudices that already exist but are usually kept hidden behind a thin veil of manners. The people of different races revert to their own race in  their attitudes.

What surprised me most is how the Indians didn't murder most of the British in their beds and kick any remaining out.  So many of the British that lorded it over the 'natives' were third rate little despots who thought they were gentry.  The arrogance is terrible; I found the same thing in Orwells 'Burmese Days".

Once I picked this and started it I was drawn in immediately, the writing is fantastic and it is an effortless read.  I found even though I enjoyed this I had no empathy with any of the characters even Dr. Aziz the victim.  I think this was mainly because they are all so human with their petty prejudices bred into them by race and religion.

This is a fantastic book and deserves its place on all the " best/ greatest novels lists".

Sunday, April 9, 2017


Bulldog Drummond is back.  Out of 1929 Hugh Drummond and his pals stick their noses into the business of new neighbour who behaviour is 'strange'.

This "sicking their nose in" uncovers a 25  year old crime which is leaving a trail of corpses in in wake.

Again, a good light read and a time capsule of behaviours and thinking from the time period this was published.

Friday, April 7, 2017


" Alec Leamas is a 50 year old professional who has grown weary and stale in espionage.  he longs to 'come in from the cold'.  One by one his agents in East Germany have been systematically liquidated- with an uncanny deliberation- by Mundt, his opposite number on the other side of the Berlin 'Wall'.....

Recalled to London, Leamas is given a chance of re-in-statement. A subtle and torturous plot has been evolved.

This is a great book, not just a great spy novel.  The only reason I rate "Tinker Tailor.." higher is that book has Smiley in a starring role, whereas he is only a bit player in this and I have soft spot for George.

The plotting in this is outstanding, if you are reading it for the first time, you'll be thinking about what is happening right until the end.

The sign this is a classic is even though I know the story the book stands multiple readings.

Sunday, April 2, 2017


In her introduction to this edition Antonia Fraser states:

..."that Josephine Tey, whose life was outwardly sad in many ways, including her early death from cancer, did find fulfillment in her books.  Certainly they will live so long as classic crime fiction is read." 

On a spring evening Robert Blair , a small town solicitor is contemplating going home for the day when he receives a telephone call from one of two women who life at a local house called The Franchise.

Marion Sharpe wishes to engage his services to represent her and her mother who have been accused of abducting and torturing a 15 year old girl.  As the accusation sound so ludicrous Blair accepts.  It is not until he finds that the victim can describe minutely details within the house that could only be known by someone who has been inside. The problem is his clients deny that she has ever been inside the premises.

This scenario sets off a trail of events until the story reaches in climax in Court.

This is a good story, there is a couple of loose ends not very well explained away, but over all a great mystery and very well written, it kept me guessing until the last few pages.