BLCC – 75 not out

I began my relationship with the British Library Crime Classics series in the spring of 2016 with the short story collection “Murder at the Manor”. Having just finished reading “Castle Skull” by John Dickson Carr, for the first time I own and have read all titles published to date, so in celebration I present a selection of ten of my favourite novels from the series.

The Dead Shall be Raised (1942) by George Bellairs                                                    A skeleton has been unearthed on the moors above Hatterworth which is identified as that of the prime suspect in a twenty-three year old crime. So on Christmas Eve Inspector Littlejohn is despatched to try to find a killer who thought they had got away with murder. All the usual Bellairs’ characterisation is on show here but it is the cold-case element that makes this title stand out. Plus this is, until next month’s double offering from John Bude, the only two-for-one so you get “Murder of a Quack” (1943) as nice bonus.

The Poisoned Chocolates Case (1929) by Anthony Berkeley                                                                                            Having previously read the short story “The Avenging Chance” which I was expanded into this novel with six solutions, I was fascinated by how Roger Sheringham’s seemingly airtight solution was ripped to shreds as apparently uncontestable witness testimony was demolished with ease. I gorged on this in one evening and in hindsight would recommend treating it like a box of chocolates and savouring each solution before moving onto the next.

The Cornish Coast Murder (1935) by John Bude  The one that kickstarted the series but the publishers at that time could have had no idea just how successful it would become. Reverend Dodd and Doctor Pendrill regularly borrow detective fiction from their local library which they devour and then discuss together. Their latest selection is Edgar Wallace, J. S. Fletcher, J. Jefferson Farjeon, Dorothy L. Sayers, Freeman Wills Crofts, and Agatha Christie (nice choice gentlemen!) but their reading plans are put on hold when the doctor is called out by Ruth Tregarthan with the news that her uncle has been murdered. Julius Tregarthan, local magistrate, is classic first corpse material, and there are a number of people who wished him ill. Their is an apparent problem with the solution, although I recently saw a cover illustration which would help, but I think that is because of the mental picture I get with a particular word – I’ve not read it back but I’m sure it could be made to work – but it is an entertaining read as the vicar finds his comfortable theoretical world of crime is not so delightful when put into practice.

Death in the Tunnel (1936) by Miles Burton Sir Wilfred Saxonby is found shot dead in a locked first-class compartment of the 6.07 to Stourford. It seems to be a clear suicide but Inspector Arnold is not so sure when he hears about a mysterious red light that caused the train to slow unexpectedly in a long section of tunnel. Very much in the “humdrum” mould, this intricate case includes one particular element which I very much enjoyed.

Mystery in the Channel (1931) by Freeman Wills Crofts                                                                                         Two men are found shot dead on a yacht in the middle of the English Channel but there is no sign of a gun. Although the boat is towed into Sussex it soon becomes clear this is not a local crime and so enter Scotland Yard’s finest – Inspector “Soapy Joe” French – at his finest. His investigation takes him to France and back as he breaks down alibis before getting into the tightest spot of his career (by his own admission in “Meet Chief-Inspector French” included as a prelude to the recent reprint of “Inspector French’s Greatest Case” which contains detailed spoilers for this title).

Thirteen Guests (1936) by J. Jefferson Farjeon      John Foss is injured at the local train station and is brought to Bragley Court to recuperate, making the number of guests into a thirteen that is unlucky for someone. A classic country house mystery with an interesting take on what seems a very modern issue. Strangely, the much celebrated “Mystery in White” is my least favourite of the four Farjeons reissued so far.


Smallbone Deceased (1950) by Michael Gilbert    I was very excited when this appeared in the forthcoming releases for 2019 and whilst it did not quite live up to its exalted reputation, it is still a fine book. Gilbert creates a believable workplace with a lightness of touch and a central character with a memorable idiosyncracy in this story of a body found within a solicitor’s patent document box.


Quick Curtain (1934) by Alan Melville          Brandon Baker, star of the new musical “Blue Music” dies on stage…quite literally. Inspector Wilson who was enjoying a night at the theatre takes charge of the murder investigation. Humour is very subjective but I thought this was hilarious, particularly young Derek’s visit to the countryside and the series of ensuing telegrams, and yet it still manages to be a good detective story.

Death of an Airman (1934) by Christopher St John Sprigg                                                                           A flight instructor dies in a plane crash but it soon becomes clear that this may be no ordinary accident. A pupil at the flying school, Edwin Marriott, Bishop of Cootamunda, gets involved in the investigation which whilst it all goes a bit “Biggles of the Special Air Police” in the middle everything is neatly resolved in the end when a crucial piece of evidence, available from the very beginning, is looked at in the right way. One of the great things about the series is that by publishing even just one book by a forgotten author, it shows there is a demand for them and other publishers can then come in and publish more by them – at least six of Sprigg’s eight other mysteries have been reissued in the last five years.

Murder of a Lady (1931) by Anthony Wynne           Mary Gregor is found stabbed to death in her locked bedroom and so Inspector Dundas and Edmund Hailey have to investigate the first in a what becomes a series of impossible murders. Whilst it could done with losing a few pages, the Highland atmosphere is well done and I enjoyed the solution to the first murder. To my mind, of those only published once in the series, Wynne is the most deserving of a second outing but perhaps this has been prevented  by rights issues.

Let’s hope that in just over two years’ time BLCC will be bringing up their century having reintroduced us to some more unjustly forgotten classics of the genre.

Case for Three Detectives (1936) by Leo Bruce

I had been looking forward to reading this for sometime: a locked room mystery with three false solutions, provided by parodies of three highly renowned fictional detectives, before the truth is provided by the humble Sergeant Beef. Could it possible live up to its promise? Short answer YES but please keep reading…

The Thurstons’ weekend house-party is going well until screams are heard from upstairs. When the guests have rushed upstairs and broken down the door they find their hostess dead with her throat slit. Before the night is over Sergeant Beef, the local policeman, has made his examination of the crime scene and already formed his conclusions, however:

“Quite early the next morning those indefatigably brilliant private investigators who seem to be always handy when a murder has been committed, began to arrive. I had some knowledge of their habits, and guessed at once what had happened to bring them here. One had probably been staying in the district, another was a friend of Dr. Tate’s, while a third, perhaps, had already been asked to stay with the Thurstons. At any rate, it was not long before the house seemed to be alive with them, crawling about on floors, applying lenses to the paint-work, and asking the servants the most unexpected questions.”

The first is Lord Simon Plimsoll and his three Rolls-Royces: one for him, one for his man-servant Butterfield, and one for “a quantity of photographic apparatus”.

He is followed by Amer Picon (incidentally the only acceptable tipple for GAD fans – JJ can tell you what it tastes like) with his egg-shaped head who has “more command of the French language than I had previously credited him with”.

Finally, we have Monsignor Smith “a small human pudding” who speaks in paradoxes.

Lionel Townsend, our narrator, works alongside all three as they consider the evidence and each come to their own conclusion.

The pastiches are brilliant, amplifying the idiosyncrasies of the three sleuths upon whom they are based, but without toppling into the ridiculous, and, which is even more impressive, their solutions are consistent with their characters and could have come from their original creators.

Despite this not being a fairly-clued mystery (its structure means that it couldn’t be) Sergeant Beef’s explanation of the locked-room is highly satisfactory and could, with some tweaking, have worked well for a “regular” mystery.

So this is a top-drawer mystery whilst also being laugh-out-loud funny and will gladden the heart of any GAD enthusiast but I advise that you read a good quantity of Lord Peter Wimsey, Hercule Poirot, and Father Brown first because you’ll appreciate the humour even more. Au revoir, mes amis as the great M. Picon would say!






Turning Japanese #2: The Moai Island Puzzle (1989) by Alice Arisugawa (translated by Ho-Ling Wong)

I don’t do my detective fiction by halves so I bought this at the same time as The Tokyo Zodiac Murders to give shin honkaku at least two chances to impress. That book was an unqualified delight but how does this second offering fare?

Alice Arisugawa is a member of his Eito University’s Mystery Club. He and Jiro Egami have been invited by a third member, Maria Arima, to stay at her family’s island holiday home in the hope that between them they can find the diamonds hidden there by her grandfather. The only clues are a group of moai statues who form the start of an “evolving puzzle”.

Their stay begins well but soon two dead bodies are found in a locked room and it is only a matter of time before the determined killer strikes again.

As the radio set has been smashed and the boat is not due for several days, the three GAD aficianados continue with the treasure hunt whilst investigating the murders and are eventually successful but are unlikely to read detective fiction again in such a carefree fashion.

The first part of the solution to the locked room mystery is very good, the second less so, but Arisugawa has allowed for this with something Egami has already said. There is also a fantastic dying message clue.

Another very satisfying read – next stop further back in time to try some honkaku.

What Else I’ve Been Reading Recently

Mystery at Lynden Sands (1928) by J. J. Connington

A man disfigured by war returns to claim his inheritance and death follows hot on his heels. Quite good in parts but I think this is where I part ways with JJC. I had the realisation that Freeman Wills Crofts is the superior “Humdrum” writer as we follow French’s investigations in detail and have some idea of why he is pursuing the lines of inquiry that he takes. Sir Clinton Driffield keeps his cards closer to his chest and so his thought processes are only shown after the killer has been revealed.

Ten Days’ Wonder (1948) by Ellery Queen

Howard Van Horn wakes up in New York following another blackout and as a last resort seeks out Ellery Queen who he met some years before in Paris. Ellery suspects that Howard is worried that he has committed a crime during one of his spells and agrees to go home with him. It just so happens that Howard hails from Wrightsville and so Ellery goes there for the third time where he once more encounters the secrets and lies hidden in small-town America. A satisfying conclusion to the “Wrightsville Murders” trilogy and for reasons of continuity means that I had to get hold of “Cat of Many Tails” to read before I get onto the further adventures of Ellery Queen already on my TBR pile.

Mystery of the Dead Police (1933) by Philip MacDonald

To avoid any confusion at the outset, this was originally published as X v. Rex by Martin Porlock.

Three police constables rush off at speed following a report of an armed robbery at the local manor house but on arriving they find the household asleep. Returning to Farnley police station they find Sergeant Guilfoil slumped across his desk with a bullet hole in his head.

In London, a Bertram Woosteresque pinching of a policeman’s helmet goes badly wrong and ends with PC Henry Beecham strangled to death.

It is only when the third and fourth murders of uniformed officers are carried out in the capital that the authorities realise that a person or persons unknown is deliberately targeting policeman – but how can they find the faceless killer(s) amongst a city of millions?

MacDonald’s earlier serial killer story “Murder Gone Mad” shows in detail how the police try to outwit the killer terrorising a small commuter town, but there they have more evidence to go on as the murderer deliberately writes letters taunting the police and detailing when the next crime is to be committed.

In this book the reader gets to see into the killer’s mind with extracts from a diary but this murderer is more restrained and avoids open communication with the police as they know it could endanger them.

The focus is on Jane Frensham, daughter of the head of Scotland Yard, her fiancé, Sir Christopher Vayle, and mystery man Nicholas Revel. The presence of the latter reminded me of Edgar Wallace and this is definitely more of a thriller than a novel of detection although there is a solvable puzzle of sorts at its heart, but I don’t think it is supposed to be that hidden.

MacDonald certainly doesn’t write the same book twice and this is as different from “Murder Gone Mad” as it is from The List of Adrian Messenger, the final part of his multiple murders triptych.

There is a nice meta touch when we are told in the interestingly written “Kaleidoscope” chapter that “Mr. Victor Gollancz denies that Francis Iles is the pseudonym of Mr. Martin Porlock”.

I’m a sucker for a serial killer mystery so this was on my must have list and enjoyed it, though it won’t be to everyone’s taste. In light of my blog’s title, it is interesting to reflect that The ABC Murders was written in the context of the books previously mentioned and Anthony Berkeley’s “The Silk Stocking Murders”.

What Else I’ve Been Reading Recently

A Taste for Honey by H. F. Heard (1941)                                                                Sydney Silchester, like Winnie-the-Pooh has an overpowering desire for honey, so when one half of his regular suppliers dies in a tragic accident he has to look for an alternative provider. He meets Mr Mycroft (nudge, nudge) who has moved to Sussex (wink, wink) to keep bees (know what I mean, say no more, say no more) and tumbles into a terrible adventure.

A curious tale with little in the way of detection and ultimately you will be called to come down on one side or the other – and I am very much on the other – yet I am glad to have read it and it does look good on the shelf in this American Mystery Classics edition.



Turning Japanese #1: The Tokyo Zodiac Murders (1981) by Soji Shimada (translated by Ross and Shika Mackenzie)

Not only is this book a Guardian Top Ten Locked-Room Mystery and has a solution that is, according to Anthony “Magpie Murders” Horowitz, “one of the most original that I’ve ever read” it is also number 2 on a companion list to Ed Hoch’s 1981 Top 15 Locked Room Mysteries as chosen by Dan from The Reader is Warned and discussed on The Men Who Explain Miracles podcast. So when I decided to dip my toes in the waters of the shin honkaku school of mystery writing it was a no-brainer as to where I should start.

In 1936 artist Heikichi Umezawa writes a detailed account of how he will murder the six young women of his household before taking body parts from each of them to create his perfect woman, Azoth. Before he can act on his grotesque plan he is found dead from a blow to the head in his locked studio.

Despite his death, the six women disappear and over the next year their mutilated bodies are discovered around Japan, all according to Heikichi’s insane scheme. Azoth is never found.

Forty-three years later the case remains unsolved by both professionals and amateurs. Enter Kiyoshi Mitarai, astrologer and part-time detective, who is unexpectedly presented with new evidence and asked to solve what has previously been impossible. He knows nothing of the affair but his best friend, Kazumi Ishioka, knows absolutely all there is to know because, in his own words:

“I’m a huge fan of mysteries; in fact they’re almost an addiction. If a week goes by without reading a mystery, I suffer withdrawal symptoms. Then I wander around like I’m sleepwalking and wake up in a bookshop, looking for a mystery novel.”*

Kazumi provides Kiyoshi with chapter and verse from the best known book on the subject “The Tokyo Zodiac Murders” and they start to throw ideas back and forth. This is my favourite section of the book as on a number of occasions Kiyoshi comes up with some great theories only for Kazumi to respond that they already been thought of and disproved.

We are then provided with the new evidence before the pair travel to Kyoto to try to interview a number of people loosely connected to the case who may be able to help, before a flash of inspiration allows Kiyoshi to see the truth of the matter.

Featuring two floor plans and no fewer than three challenges to the reader, this is a Golden Age style cold-case that fully deserves it much-vaunted reputation – made all the more incredible by the fact that this was Shimada’s first book! There are clear nods to the history of the genre, including two that stood out for me relating to books that I happen to have read in the last couple of months.

The main reason I had held back from reading this was the nature of the murders, being no fan of blood and guts, but I would say you get more explicit gore from the single decapitation in “It Walks by Night” by John Dickson Carr than you do here.

I’ll definitely be getting hold of the recently translated “Murder in the Crooked House” and then hope that someone launches a crowd-funder to get more of Shimada’s work translated.

*Does this remind you of anyone you know?

What Else I’ve Been Reading Recently

Keep It Quite by Richard Hull (1935) – The Whitehall is an unexceptional London club until the day that the most irritating member, Morrison, is found dead in the smaller library. He may have been accidentally poisoned by the chef and to avoid a scandal Ford, the club secretary, persuades the dead man’s doctor and fellow clubman, Anstruther, to proclaim death by natural causes. Life goes back to normal until letters start to arrive from a most unusual blackmailer whose requests become increasingly more bizarre.

The first half is certainly stronger than the second but I found this to be a better book than both The Murder of My Aunt and “Excellent Intentions”.

The Footsteps at the Lock by Ronald Knox (1928) – Cousins Derek and Nigel go boating on the Thames and whilst Nigel goes off to Oxford for the day, Derek disappears, presumed drowned. Accident, suicide, murder? Insurance investigator Miles Bredon is really only interested if he is dead, the how and the who don’t necessarily matter to him.

The descriptive prose is laid on a little thick and whist I enjoyed the book to an extent, I think Monsignor Knox is likely to continue to be remembered more for his Decalogue than his novels.



Back to School Exam

How much of your detective fiction reading can you accurately recall?

1. Biography: Who is Ellery Queen? Refer to both Ellery and Queen and the following key texts: The French Key, The Adventure of the Greek Interpreter, The Case of the Chinese Gong. Cite neither J. J. Mc. nor JJ at The Invisible Event.

2. Home Economics: Death Invites You to have Thirteen at Dinner. Prepare a meal comprising: Hard Cheese, Five Red Herrings, and (Sergeant) Beef. Serve with Two Bottles of Relish. Wine to be sourced from the Cellars of the Majestic. Finish with Black Coffee and a Case of Poisoned Chocolates.

3. Music: Whistle Up the Devil or sing Swan Song.

4. English Literature: Critique as many of these as you have read: The Lotus Murder, The Clue of the Candle Wax, The Death in the Drainpipe, and The Affair of the Second Goldfish.

5. History: Who killed the Princes in the Tower?

a. Henry VII

b. Richard III

c. Lambert Simnel and/or Perkin Warbeck

d. Alan Grant

e. Gordon Daviot

6. Gender Studies: Complete the sentence “If a woman were head of Scotland Yard…”

7. Post mortems: Recall the victims in the following works:

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, Lord Edgware Dies, and Mrs McGinty’s Dead.

8. Algebra: If 9 + Death = 10 then 2 x Death + 7 = ?

9. Economics: A Shilling for Candles – is that good value?

10.  Having deduced the existence of this question and revealed it by heating the paper, respond to the following question in the personal column of the local newspaper using a cipher breakable by the Chief Constable: Whose Body?

11. Boatsmanship: Are you, or have you ever been, Master of the “Emma Jane” fishing trawler?

12. Languages: Translate these Belgian phrases into French:

Mon ami, Hastings.



Mal de mer.

Mon cher Hastings.

13. Personal Taste: Do you prefer the works of:

a. Ellery Queen

b. Barnaby Ross

c. Frederic Danny and Manfred Lee

d. Daniel Nathan and Emanuel Lepofsky

14. Geography: Locate the following on a map:

a. St Mary Mead

b. Lymstock

c. Chipping Cleghorn

15. Geometry: Draw a scale diagram that illustrates the solution to “The Cornish Coast Murders” by John Bude or Square the Circle (whichever you deem easier).

16. Practical Science: By repeated experiment and with reference to the Poisson Distribution estimate the probability of success of the method utilised in “Sealed Room Murder” by Rupert Penny.

17. Chess: White opens e4. Do you choose to respond with the Birlstone Gambit?

18. Pseudonyms: John Dickson Carr is to Carter Dickson as Dorothy Leigh Sayers is to whom?

19. Law: How did Perry Mason solve each of the following: The Case of the Seven of Calvary, The Case of the Bonfire Body, The Case of the Constant Suicides, The Case of the Gilded Fly, The Case of the Famished Parson, and The Case of the Smoking Chimney?

20. Fairplay: If the ghost of a Chinaman enters a house via a secret passage to place an untraceable poison in his twin brother’s glass what percentage of Knox’s Decalogue has been broken? Devise a scenario that breaks at least three other of Knox’s Rules.

Correct answers can be obtained by writing to Hercule Poirier, Whitehorse Mansions, EC1  or by ‘phoning Whitehall 1212.

With acknowledgement and apology to W. C. Sellar and R. J. Yeatman.

Review of 2019

Highlights of the year for me have been:

So That’s What All the Fuss is About Award: Jointly to The Dutch Shoe Mystery and The Crooked Hinge because that is when I “got” Ellery Queen and John Dickson Carr respectively for the first time.







Lifetime Achievement Award: I’d read “Tragedy at Law” and “An English Murder” before but reading through the complete novels of Cyril Hare was a great pleasure, particularly one character’s journey from despair to happiness. Suicide Excepted was the stand out title.

Yorkshireman Award for Best Value for Money: Jointly to “The Derek Smith Omnibus” (Locked Room International) and “4 Novels by Anthony Boucher” (Black Box Thrillers – Zomba Books). Smith only had Whistle Up the Devil published during his lifetime but left us with the excellent novel “Come to Paddington Fair” and “Model for Murder”, a Sexton Blake novella, which could only have been improved by cutting out some of the more thrillerish elements which, having not read any other SB stories, I assume are essential to it being an SB story. All four Boucher books have different points of interest but overall I was most satisfied with The Case of the Seven of Calvary.







Best Unseen Novel Award: “She Died a Lady” by Carter Dickson. I picked up a secondhand copy having read a review sometime ago and forgotten all about it and deliberately did not read the blurb. Everything, including the identity of the victim and the nature of the impossibility, was therefore unknown to me which ratchetted up the tension of the first section.

Best Short Story Award: “The House in Goblin Wood” by Carter Dickson. There aren’t many must read short stories but this one definitely is. I got it in a secondhand copy of “Twelve American Detective Stories” edited by Ed Hoch from which I also especially enjoyed “The Age of Miracles” by Melville Davisson Post, “The Episode of the Nail and the Requiem” by C. Daly King, and “One Drop of Blood” by Cornell Woolrich. If you would rather have a new book, I’m fairly sure it can be found in “Murder in Midsummer – Classic Mysteries for the Holidays” published by Profile Books.







Best Novel Award: I didn’t review it at the time, but overall for the mix of puzzle, solution, and general enjoyment it has to be “Sealed Room Murder” by Rupert Penny. Douglas Merton, narrator, is employed by his uncle, an enquiry agent, to investigate which of Harriet Steele’s relatives is playing malicious practical jokes on her. The jokes turn sour when the mistress of the house is found stabbed to death inside (you guessed it) a Sealed Room. The eventual solution is one that I’ve not seen before and I can’t imagine that anyone has had the chutzpah to duplicate it.

Happy New Year and here’s to reading even better GAD in 2020!