The Documents in the Case by Dorothy L. Sayers and Robert Eustace (1930)

As this doesn’t feature Lord Peter Wimsey I hadn’t got hold of a copy of it when I bought the rest of Dorothy L. Sayers’ detective novels and short stories in a new paperback edition two years ago. However it perfectly fits the bill for a very specific Vintage Mystery Challenge item so I decided now was the time for a re-read.

George Harrison, and his younger second wife Margaret, live in the suburbs of London with her live-in companion Agatha Milsom. Their lives are irrevocably changed when a writer and an artist move into the maisonette above them, creating an unfortunate love triangle. Coupled with the fact that George is a keen cook and forager for edible mushrooms it is clear this is not going to end well.

The covering letter to the documents presented gives a strong indication as to who the victim is going to be (most blurbs are explicit about this) and given death does not occur until halfway through, we have a lot of uninteresting set-up.

The solution is clever, but not solvable for the lay reader, and would have worked better as a short-story. It had been proposed by Robert Eustace but Sayers herself was disappointed with what she had done with it.

The appearance of Sir James Lubbock tells us that despite Wimsey’s absence we are still in his universe and in fact we are told that the chemist is working late on the arsenic case; given this book and “Strong Poison” were both published in 1930 the implication is that this is the Harriet Vane case.

An experimental novel, but not one that is very successful -at least it looks good on the shelf.

Vintage Mystery Challenge

“What – Includes letters/diary extracts/similar”

What Else I’ve Been Reading

Close Up on Death by Maureen O’Brien -taking part in a work team-building scavenger hunt I came upon The Last Bookshop (all books £3 or 2 for £5) in the centre of Bristol and picked up this and “The Wallet of Kai-Lung” by Ernest Bramah (a favourite of Wimsey and Vane). The story of how the murder of Liza Drew impacts narrator Millie Hale and those closest to her. Aidan’s review at  Mysteries Ahoy! can be found here.

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Death in the Stocks by Georgette Heyer (1935)

When looking for a book featuring an accountant in order to fill the final gap in my plan to complete the Vintage Mystery Challenge an appeal to the GAD Facebook group suggested this title. As it was on my mum’s bookshelf I thought I may as well save my money trying David Dodge or Clark Smith and give it a go.

Georgette Heyer is best-known for a series of Regency Romances but she also turned her hand to detective fiction, writing twelves novels, often featuring the completely characterless Superintendent Hannasyde.

This story opens early one morning with a police constable finding the body of the much disliked Arnold Vereker clad in evening dress with his feet in the village stocks. The prime suspects are his half-siblings, Antonia who has quarrelled violently with him regarding her engagement and Kenneth, a penniless artist who is his heir. Both are happy that Arnold is dead and aren’t afraid to show it.

There is a lot of talking in this book, often about whether people are bluffing and being overly clever: “Of course if I had committed the murder that is exactly what I wouldn’t have done – or would I?” etc.

I knew I might have read this before, but initially was unsure until I had a general sense that I definitely had but still had no memory of who or why. I did solve the case though perhaps there was something in my subconscious that helped me.

This isn’t a bad book but neither is it a good book.

Vintage Mystery Challenge

A prominent character is an accountant so fulfils “Why – A character has a job similar to yours”

What Else I’ve Been Reading

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson – a year ago I bought a load of hardback classics for my children to enjoy in the future but for the moment I am working through them. This book gives us everything that we have come to associate with pirates – pieces of eight, parrots, the black spot etc. Long John Silver is one of the most charming villains in fiction and all the more dangerous for it. A brilliant adventure yarn.

 

Operation Pax by Michael Innes – in the John Appleby series but he doesn’t get to do that much. Definitely a thriller rather than a traditional detective story. One for the completist.

 

 

 

 

 

The Invisible Circle by Paul Halter (1996)

Having enjoyed Halter’s short story collection “The Night of the Wolf” I asked JJ for some good starter novels. I think he suggested “The Tiger’s Head” and “Death Invites You” but when I was looking those up on Amazon and ebay I found second-hand copies of this book and “The Seven Wonders of Crime” at very good prices and being a Yorkshireman my decision was obvious.

This stand-alone novel begins various people considering invitations they have received from Gerry Pearson to visit him at his castle situated on a Cornish island where they will witness a “singular experience”. After dinner on the first evening Gerry gives them all an appropriate nickname from the Arthurian legend before revealing a sword stuck fast in a stone and the Holy Grail. He also makes some astonishing predictions before locking himself in a room that is then sealed with the guests’ personal items. Given this is detective fiction and Locked Room International in particular we know what is going to happen next…

The first half is brilliant as the scene is set and the “singular experience” occurs. There is then some good stuff after the murder but this then descends into a lot of running around à la episode three of a four part Doctor Who serialisation. The locked room trick is very well done and appropriate to the story as a whole.

The ending however is rushed, leaving some questions regarding what might have happened unanswered, and the characterisation after the first couple of chapters is as wafer-thin as Mr Creosote’s after dinner mint.

The story is set in 1936, which is important to enable the Invisible Circle to be created, but apart from that there is no real sense of that era.

Having said all that, this was an exciting fast paced read and even if “The Seven Wonders of Crime” is not up to scratch I still enjoyed this more than enough to give the recommended works a go.

 

 

 

 

 

 

#38 – N or M?

Tommy and Tuppence Beresford are depressed that they can make no useful contribution to the war effort when they are visited by a Mr Grant, who knows of the work they have previously done for the intelligence services.

Unfortunately only Tommy is required and he can’t even tell Tuppence the nature of the mission he is being sent on. A recently deceased agent was on the track of a high-ranking German spy and his dying words indicate that they may be connected with the Sans Souci guesthouse in the coastal town of Leahampton.

Tommy travels there by a roundabout route and is surprised to find that an old friend has already arrived to help him in his task. Together they suspect all their fellow residents but are able to work their way to discovering the identity of N or M but not without some scares along the way.

I probably wouldn’t have remembered the guilty party from a previous read were it not for Sporcle quizzes. I was still completely surprised by how the ending panned out.

Like the first Tommy and Tuppence novel this is more a thriller, though with some genuinely clued elements. As far as I remember this is Christie’s only novel set during the Second World War and she never tried her hand at creating a regular mystery within the war time setting in the vein of Christianna Brand’s “Green for Danger” or Cyril Hare’s “With a Bare Bodkin”.

This book was published before the Americans had joined the war, and was possibly written before Germany invaded Russia, and so the outcome was very uncertain. There is encouragement shown in that the authorities having been underprepared are now doing better and with mentions of concentration camps a reminder to her American readers of the ruthlessness of the Nazis that might make them support entering the war.

Recurring character development

Tommy and Tuppence Beresford

She can knit well and making khaki balaclavas is one of her contributions to the war effort.

Have twin children: Deborah who is doing something hush-hush involving coding and Derek who is the Royal Air Force. They would not be adults if the timeline previously established was strictly adhered to as they would have been born c.1927.

He is 46 which isn’t quite consistent with The Secret Adversary where is at most 24 in 1920.

He is a mediocre golfer.

Is given the rank of Captain here, which must have been given for work between the wars as he was only a lieutenant at the end of World War I.

Albert Batt

Has been married for six years and is the proprietor of The Duck and Dog pub in South London.

His wife and children have been evacuated to Wales.

Signs of the Times

The story is set across Spring/Summer 1940.

Tuppence says that Tommy looks like a “Dismal Desmond”. This was a cartoon dog from the mid-1920s created by Ian Hassall.

The government is concerned by the Fifth Column i.e. those living in Britain who are sympathetic with the enemy. The term became popular during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) but had been used as early as 1906.

Grant notes that Britain did not want war and was not prepared for it. As I get older it becomes more understandable why those who had witnessed the horrors of the First World War were so keen to appease Hitler in order to avoid a war. This is reflected when Tommy says “This is the second war we’ve been in – and we feel quite different about this one” to which Tuppence replies “I know – we see the pity of it and the waste – and the horror. All the things we were too young to think about before.”

When considering the meaning of Farquhar’s final words he concedes he may have been thinking of “Sister Susie’s Sewing Shirts for Soldiers”, a song written in 1914 by R. P. Weston and Herman Darewski.

Mrs Perenna struggles to run her establishment given the rationing of food.

Mrs Sprot talks about people returning to London because it is now safe. Evacuation of children from British cities began with the outbreak of war in 1939 but sustained bombing did not begin until autumn 1940 leading to some families returning, some then being re-evacuated.

My eyes lit up when I saw that one of the characters in a book about spies was called Bletchley given that Bletchley Park was the home of Station X, the centre of code-breaking during the Second World War. MI5 were concerned by this reference but Christie was able to assure them that she had chosen the name because she had once got stuck there on a train.

Von Deinim’s two brothers, although not Jews, are in a concentration camp.

Tommy jokes that Von Deinim might be “walking out with a Company Commander in the ATS”. The Auxiliary Territorial Service was the women’s branch of the army from 1938 to 1949.

Mr Cayley believes that the war will last at least six years and that Germany could hold out indefinitely with Russia behind her. At this point the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was still in effect but certainly by the time of publication in the USA this had changed.

Commander Haydock is the local ARP warden, responsible for Air Raid Precautions, particularly the night-time blackout.

Grant informs Tommy that all German men aged between 16 and 60 will shortly be interned. Internment did take place in 1940 but there was an outcry in Parliament and many were released.

The guesthouse residents discuss whether the Germans had been right to execute Nurse Cavell for helping soldiers escape from them during the First World War.

Sheila’s father was “a follower of Casement in the last war. He was shot as a traitor!” Sir Roger Casement was involved in the Easter Rising of 1916 that tried to win Irish independence and was subsequently tried and executed as a traitor.

The guesthouse residents discuss whether France can rally and whether Weygand could pull things together. Maxime Weygand replaced Maurice Gamelin as French Supreme Commander following the German invasion of France in May 1940 but was unable to change anything and France surrendered on 25 June 1940.

Reference is later made to the evacuation of British troops from Dunkirk and the fall of Paris.

Haydock says that Tommy is an LDV. The Local Defence Volunteers were those ineligible to join the regular armed forces but who wished to defend their country in the case of an invasion. They were soon renamed as the Home Guard.

Major Bletchley says “Remember your Dickens? Beware of widders, Sammy.” This is advice given by Tony Weller to his son Sam in “The Pickwick Papers”.

Tuppence receives a Bonzo postcard. Bonzo was a cartoon dog created in 1922 by George Studdy.

An enemy agent refers to “a brave new world, as Shakespeare puts it.” The phrase comes from “The Tempest” and had been used as the title of Aldous Huxley’s 1932 dystopian novel.

References to previous works

Tuppence refers to the events of The Secret Adversary. It is revealed that their former employer from that book was actually a Lord Easthampton. He retired to Scotland to fish but is now in ill health.

There is a character called Anthony Marsdon which is almost exactly the same as Anthony Marston in And Then There Were None.

Vintage Mystery Challenge

Fulfils “When – Set during First or Second World War”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Night of Errors by Michael Innes (1947)

After the disappointing re-read of The Weight of the Evidence and the unspectacular and unreviewed “Appleby’s End” this re-read was a definite return to form for Innes.

In 1933 Ellery Queen gave us twins and a fire; here Innes ups the ante and gives us triplets and multiple conflagrations. The opening section is quite leisurely but from the point that the recently retired Appleby is called in as a consultant in the middle of the night it is all go-go-go.

Appleby’s reasoning is not flawless and he is surprised on occasion but ultimately he is able to untangle the threads of the mystery and present the real story of the Dromio Affair.

I had forgotten the solution and whilst the clues are there it would be quite hard to pull them together but nevertheless I found it very satisfying.

Vintage Mystery Challenge

Fulfils “When – Time/date in the title”

 

 

 

 

 

#37 – Evil Under the Sun

Former stage actress Arlena Marshall turns the head of every man staying on Smugglers’ Island, including Hercule Poirot, and in consequence could be hated by any man or woman staying there. Although some of the guests feel that murder on holiday is unlikely Poirot knows that “there is evil everywhere under the sun”.

It is no surprise then when Arlena’s body is found in a secluded cove. It was likely that she was meeting an admirer – but who? Did they kill her or did someone else find her secret meeting place?

As usual Poirot weaves together disparate physical clues with the psychological character of the victim and the suspects to unmask a ruthless and very dangerous killer.

Another excellent entry in Christie’s Golden Era.

Recurring character development

Hercule Poirot

For a seaside holiday wears a white duck suit. He isn’t in disguise, duck is a type of woven cotton fabric.

Horace Blatt has heard of him but “thought he was dead. Dash it, he ought to be dead” which implies a much older age than he is normally portrayed on screen at this point in his career.

A very wise friend in the police force once said to him “Hercule, my friend, if you would know tranquility, avoid women.”

Signs of the Times

Although published in 1941 this is clearly set pre-WWII and probably before the previous Poirot novel One, Two, Buckle My Shoe.

Major Barry saw Arlena in “Come and Go” before she left the stage. There is no contemporary play of that name but the title was used by Samuel Beckett in 1965 for his short play of under 130 words.

Linda’s possible reading choices from the book shop are “The Four Feathers” (1902) by A. E. W. Mason, know to GAD readers for his Inspector Hanaud novels, “Vice Versa” (1882) a comic novel by Thomas Anstey Guthrie in which the use of a magic stone effectively enables a father and son to swap bodies, and “The Marriage of William Ashe” (1905) by Mary Augusta Ward.

Inspector Colgate says that Marshall’s manner is similar to that of Wallace which lead the jury to bring in a Guilty verdict against him. William Herbert Wallace was tried for the murder of his wife Julia in 1931. The evidence was circumstantial and could be interpreted in different ways but he was found Guilty and it was said at the time by observers in court that his extraordinary composure had harmed his defence. The verdict was overturned on appeal but Wallace had little time to enjoy his freedom, dying in 1933. The case has never been solved.

Poirot says “do noble deeds, not dream them all day long”, a slight misquote from Charles Kingsley’s poem “A Farewell” (should be “things” rather than “deeds”).

Linda’s bookshelf contains a Bible, Shakespeare’s plays, The Marriage of William Ashe, The Young Stepmother (1861) by Charlotte Yonge, A Shropshire Lad (1896) by A. E. Housman, Murder in the Cathedral (1935) by T. S. Eliot, St Joan (1923) by George Bernard Shaw, Gone with the Wind (1936) by Margaret Mitchell, and The Burning Court (1937) by John Dickson Carr.

Stephen Lane compares Arlena to Jezebel, the wife of Ahab, king of Israel, and Aholibah, a pejorative nickname for the city of Jerusalem in the Book of Ezekiel.

References to previous works

Mrs Gardener heard about Poirot from Cornelia Robson, who had met him during the events of Death on the Nile. Perhaps she retained her maiden name or possibly did not end up marrying Dr Bessner. Poirot also refers to that case when discussing this case with Hastings at a later date.

The Chief Constable of the area is still Colonel Weston who refers to the events of Peril at End House. Weston met Chief Inspector Japp again not that long ago.

Vintage Mystery Challenge

Fulfils “Who – An actor/actress”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#37 – Evil Under the Sun – WITH SPOILERS

Former stage actress Arlena Marshall turns the head of every man staying on Smugglers’ Island, including Hercule Poirot, and in consequence could be hated by any man or woman staying there. Although some of the guests feel that murder on holiday is unlikely Poirot knows that “there is evil everywhere under the sun”.

It is no surprise then when Arlena’s body is found in a secluded cove. It was likely that she was meeting an admirer – but who? Did they kill her or did someone else find her secret meeting place?

As usual Poirot weaves together disparate physical clues with the psychological character of the victim and the suspects to unmask a ruthless and very dangerous killer.

Another excellent entry in Christie’s Golden Era.

Recurring character development

Hercule Poirot

For a seaside holiday wears a white duck suit. He isn’t in disguise, duck is a type of woven cotton fabric.

Horace Blatt has heard of him but “thought he was dead. Dash it, he ought to be dead” which implies a much older age than he is normally portrayed on screen at this point in his career.

A very wise friend in the police force once said to him “Hercule, my friend, if you would know tranquility, avoid women.”

Signs of the Times

Although published in 1941 this is clearly set pre-WWII and probably before the previous Poirot novel One, Two, Buckle My Shoe.

Major Barry saw Arlena in “Come and Go” before she left the stage. There is no contemporary play of that name but the title was used by Samuel Beckett in 1965 for his short play of under 130 words.

Linda’s possible reading choices from the book shop are “The Four Feathers” (1902) by A. E. W. Mason, know to GAD readers for his Inspector Hanaud novels, “Vice Versa” (1882) a comic novel by Thomas Anstey Guthrie in which the use of a magic stone effectively enables a father and son to swap bodies, and “The Marriage of William Ashe” (1905) by Mary Augusta Ward.

Inspector Colgate says that Marshall’s manner is similar to that of Wallace which lead the jury to bring in a Guilty verdict against him. William Herbert Wallace was tried for the murder of his wife Julia in 1931. The evidence was circumstantial and could be interpreted in different ways but he was found Guilty and it was said at the time by observers in court that his extraordinary composure had harmed his defence. The verdict was overturned on appeal but Wallace had little time to enjoy his freedom, dying in 1933. The case has never been solved.

Poirot says “do noble deeds, not dream them all day long”, a slight misquote from Charles Kingsley’s poem “A Farewell” (should be “things” rather than “deeds”).

Linda’s bookshelf contains a Bible, Shakespeare’s plays, The Marriage of William Ashe, The Young Stepmother (1861) by Charlotte Yonge, A Shropshire Lad (1896) by A. E. Housman, Murder in the Cathedral (1935) by T. S. Eliot, St Joan (1923) by George Bernard Shaw, Gone with the Wind (1936) by Margaret Mitchell, and The Burning Court (1937) by John Dickson Carr.

Stephen Lane compares Arlena to Jezebel, the wife of Ahab, king of Israel, and Aholibah, a pejorative nickname for the city of Jerusalem in the Book of Ezekiel.

References to previous works

Mrs Gardener heard about Poirot from Cornelia Robson, who had met him during the events of Death on the Nile. Perhaps she retained her maiden name or possibly did not end up marrying Dr Bessner. Poirot also refers to that case when discussing this case with Hastings at a later date.

The Chief Constable of the area is still Colonel Weston who refers to the events of Peril at End House. Weston met Chief Inspector Japp again not that long ago.

Vintage Mystery Challenge

Fulfils “Who – An actor/actress”.

SPOILERS

Christie puts a new spin on the love-triangle – it could have been the husband, Kenneth Marshall, or his old friend Rosamund Darnley, but in the end it is the couple with the strongest alibis, who have fallen out publically, but are working in tandem (even as I type that it brings back strong memories of a much earlier Christie).

The method is given to us in the first chapter several times as the uniformity of the sunbather is commented on:

“Nothing personal about them. They are just – bodies!”

“Today everything is standardised. That reminds me very much of the Morgue in Paris. Bodies – arranged on slabs – like butcher’s meat.”

The motive for murder seems slim – that Kenneth Marshall would have done “something” when he found out that Arlena had given Patrick most of her money – really I think the Redferns are a pair of psychopaths who enjoyed their first murder and want to experience that thrill again.