Sunday, October 29, 2017

THE PONSON CASE - Freeman Wills Crofts

When the body of Sir William Ponson is found in the Cranshaw River near his home of Luce manor, it is assumed to be an accident- until the evidence points to murder.  Inspector Tanner of Scotland Yard discovers that those that would benefit most from his death seem to have unbreakable alibis, and a mysterious fifth man whose footprints were found at the scene is nowhere to be found.

Published in 1921 this is more police procedural that the normal murder mystery that was published around this time.

The reader is taken through the investigation step by step and is given all the information and is privy to all conversations that the police have and undertake so if you have a heart beat you should be able to figure out the end result.

Being taken painstakingly through the investigation process could be terribly dull but Crofts writing style keeps the reader engaged and builds tension nicely making for a very satisfying read.

This edition is a re-published hardback by the Collins Crime Club from 2016 with the original dust jacket reproduced.

I'm loving the fact that more of these 'golden age' crime books are becoming available as the earlier editions are becoming harder to locate. This is especially true for the likes of Crofts whose profile has not been maintained like that of  Sayers, Allingham or Christie.

Friday, October 27, 2017


Richard Cadogan, poet and would-be bon vivant arrives for what he thinks will be a relaxing holiday in the city of dreaming spires.  Late one night, however, he discovers the dead body of an elderly woman lying in a toy shop and is coshed on the head.  When he comes to he finds the toy shop has disappeared and been replaced with a grocery store.  The police are understandably sceptical of his tale but Richard's former schoolmate, Gervase Fen ( Oxford professor and amateur detective), knows that truth is stranger then fiction.

So begins a brilliant locked room mystery first published in 1946.  Gervase Fen runs around Oxford at a frenetic pace with his friend trying to solve the murder.

The story is peopled with wonderful characters, students, dons and villains.  Crispen continually throws in literary references, i.e to pass the time when locked in a cupboard he has our heroes play,
Unreadable Books, making them list books they have been unable to finish.

Fen is a terrible driver, a lover of a drink and a very good amateur detective.  You read this and it is understandable why this features on 'best of' lists.

Enormous fun, preposterous fun, but so enjoyable.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

BLACK PLUMES - Margery Allingham

Lucar was an unpleasant being, intolerably so at times.  It was hardly surprising that nobody like him, even though he had saved Robert Madigrals life and was his right hand man at The Gallery, the ancient and reputed Art centre of the West End whilst the owner and director, who was incidently Madigrals father in law, was abroad.  Naturally, when Madigral was found murdered and Lucar was discovered to have left the country, everyone jumped to the conclusion that it was only a question of tracking down Lucar and the murderer was found.

This is a standalone story from Allingham and as such was a disappointment, I missed Albert Campion and Lugg sorting things out.

The disappointment is not the plot, just the style, and the characters,who in this locked roomed tale are all very unlikable, there is no humour just nastiness.  This is a credit to Allingham who had great ability mix up her styles and still be very readable but I did not enjoy the book.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

DR NO - Ian Fleming

Crab Key island is desolate and remote.  So why is Dr No defending it so ruthlessly? Only Bond can uncover the truth.

Its been many moons since I read this and it has not aged well, certainly not like From Russia With Love or Goldfinger , still a fun afternoons read but not in the top echelon and I love Bond books.

The best part of re-reading this was the Introduction by Jonathan Freedland who explains the Bond phenomenon better than most, especially their initial popularity.

For Fleming never forgets that a thriller has to thrill; that, what ever else it does, it must entertain.  Central to such fiction's magic is the promise of escape.  When Casino Royale the first Bond novel, appeared, rationing still had a year to run in Britain.  To a readership still trudging through a drab, grey country exhausted by war and austerity, Dr No offered the prospect of azure skies, powder-white beaches, gorgous women and handsome men.  When jet travel was still a novelty, when foreign tourism was still off limits to all but the wealthiest, how exotically enticing must have sounded Jamaica's North Coast, Blue Mountain and even Crab Key.

To the Brits back home , heads down against the rain, their legs whipped by the wet hems of their macintoshes', a Bond novel was a ticket to distant joys.

If you've never read these books, invest a few weekends, the trick is they were written contemporarily, views, expressions and attitudes were not as they are today.

I say to anyone who wants to alter older books to censor or change, sell a few million of your own before you start touching up those that have gone before you.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

CORONER'S PIDGIN - Margery Allingham

Albert Campion is home on his first leave from the war for three years.  He is in his bath when he hears a ruckus in his lounge.  He goes out to find his man Lugg and a lady "of unmistakable aristocratic bearing" carrying a corpse.

So begins this very dark mystery first published in 1945.  This is much darker without any of the flippancy that were a feature of Allingham's pre-WWII Campion novels.

This story is set over a week and involves some very nasty people dealing in stolen property that the war has enabled them to profit from.

Very dark, very entertaining, very recommended.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

THE TIGER IN THE SMOKE - Margery Allingham

A young war widow begins receiving photographs of her presumed dead husband.  The husband was supposedly killed during the D Day landings but these photographs have him walking around London within the last week.

She goes to Albert Campion to have him attempt to locate what is almost certainly her husband.

From this the story explodes into dealing with a stone cold killer, professional burglars and a decent mystery.

This is great fun, an adventure with the usual witty dialogue from Allinghams wonderful characters.  She has the City of London as one of the main characters in this book with the heavy fogs adding atmosphere throughout the story.


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

FIVE RED HERRINGS - Dorothy L.Sayers

Lord Peter Wimsey could imagine the artist stepping back, the stagger, the fall, down to where the pointed rocks grinned like teeth.

But was it an accident- or murder?  Six member of the close knit Galloway artists' colony do not regret Campbell's death.

Five of them are red herrings.

This is a proper mystery story, all the information is laid out for the reader to follow the logic in solving the crime (to a pedantic extent sometimes) , you will need to take notes but if you do you should arrive at the correct conclusion the same time as the books characters.

The book has been deliberately written in this fashion and as such can be repetitive and lags.  There is also this supremely annoying inclusion on page 21.

(Here Lord Peter Wimsey told the Sergeant what he was to look for and why, but as the intelligent reader will readily supply these details himself, they are omitted from this page).

The direct appeal to the vanity of the reader is , I think ,a bit unnecessary.

So this is a bit slow with Wimsey is a lot more serious in this book than others in the series but if you like jigsaw puzzles it will have an appeal.

Thursday, October 5, 2017


Alan Grant, Scotland Yard Inspector is feeling bored while confined in hospital with a broken leg.  Marta Halland, an actress friend of his, suggests he should amuse himself by researching a historical mystery.  She brings him some pictures of historical characters, aware of Grants interest in human faces.  he becomes intrigued by a portrait of King Richard III.  He prides himself on being able to read a persons character from his appearance, and King Richard seems to him a gentle and kind and wise man.  Why is everyone so sure that he was a cruel murderer?

With the help of  other friends and acquaintances, Grant investigates Richard's life and the case of the Princes in the Tower, testing out his theories on the doctor and nurses who attend to him.  Grant spends the weeks pondering historical information and documents with the help of  Brent Carradine, a likable young American researcher working at the British Museum.  Using his detectives logic, he comes to the conclusion that the claim of Richard being a murderer is a fabrication of Tudor propaganda, as is the popular image of the King as a monstrous hunchback.

This is very clever, the mystery is solved by research using contemporary documents available to Grant working on the case 400 years after the event.
It never falters , potentially it could with the entire novel being set in one room in a hospital, but the flow of information is so constant and interesting you get to the end of the book without realizing.  It is very easy to understand that this is rated one of the best mystery stories.
The bad news is Tey only wrote seven novels before her premature death and there is only one remaining for me to read.