Police at the Funeral (1931) by Margery Allingham

I have been inspired to review, if possible, a case involving each of the sleuthsFuneral listed in 100 Greatest Literary Detectives (ed. Eric Sandberg) and whilst I have lazily linked in some previous reviews to the page that will summarise my progress, this is the first review written specifically for this purpose.

Joyce Blount’s Uncle Andrew is missing and whilst her fiancé, Marcus Featherstone, sees nothing sinister in this, he does point her in the direction of his friend and amateur detective, Albert Campion. 

Joyce explains that Andrew’s disappearance is unexpected as like her other relations, Uncle William and Aunts Julia and Kitty, he has no money of his own and is dependent on Great-Aunt Caroline Faraday, an imposing matriarch who still lives as if it is the 1880s. As her explanations finish, a telegram arrives from Marcus, to say that Andrew has been found murdered.

Whilst Lord Peter Wimsey is happy to detect under his own name, with the advantages and disadvantages that brings, Mr Campion, also the younger son of an aristocratic family, hides his true identity for professional purposes. Great-Aunt Faraday refers to him initially as Rudolph and trusts him to act on behalf of her family as she knows all about him having corresponded with his grandmother for the last forty-five years.

It soon becomes clear that someone has it in for the Faraday family and that they are all in imminent danger. Can Campion catch a killer before they strike again?

Whilst things hang together neatly, especially regarding the psychology of the characters, and Stanislaus Oates is confirmed in his prejudice against coincidences I did have a problem with Campion’s actions because SPOILER IN ROT13 vg frrzf gung ur qbrfa’g jnag gb gvc-bss gur zheqrere ol univat gur ubhfr frnepurq sbe qrngugencf – ohg ur oryvriref gur zheqrere vf nyernql qrnq fb jung qbrf ur guvax jvyy unccra vs ur vf jebat?

This is the fourth Campion novel that I’ve read and none of them have particularly excited me. However I did enjoy the short-story collection “Mr Campion and Others”.

 

#65 – A Caribbean Mystery

“Like to see the picture of a murderer?” 65. A Caribbean Mystery

Major Palgrave was a bit of a bore but when he dies suddenly shortly after uttering these words Miss Marple’s suspicions are aroused. She finds the picture he was talking about has disappeared – or  has it? Had he moved onto a different subject? And the sight of which of their fellow guests had caused him to end his story so abruptly? If only she’d paid more attention because the next day the Major is dead, seemingly of natural causes, but naturally she is not satisfied.

Miss Marple is especially devious in her investigations – inventing a dead nephew in an attempt to get hold of the mysterious photograph and later damaging a shoe and faking a fall in case she should be observed spying on someone.

In the absence of Sir Henry Clithering or Dermot Craddock she has to enlist the help of irascible, but influential, millionaire Mr Rafiel, to give her investigation some weight.

If you can no longer be sure who your neighbours might really be (A Murder is Announced) how much more uncertain are you of fellow holidaymakers who have no one else to vouch for their bona fides. And even Miss Marple isn’t exactly who she appears to be as she takes on the mantle of Nemesis!

Recurring Character Development

Miss Marple

Her nephew, Raymond West, sends her modern novels which she does not enjoy reading.

Last winter “she had had a bad go of pneumonia and medical opinion had advised sunshine”. Raymond has arranged and paid for her holiday.

Has rheumatism in her neck.

Once met a young man at a croquet party who seemed so nice but when he was warmly welcomed by her father she found that after all he was very dull.

Towards the end of the book reads a few verses from Thomas à Kempis, turns out the light and sends up a prayer.

Signs of the Times

Major Palgrave says “Take all this business about Kenya” and given the book was published in 1964 he is likely to be referring to the fact that it became an independent country in 1963.

The Hillingdons have articles published in the National Geographic and the Royal Horticultural Journal. The former has been published monthly since 1888, currently with 33 different versions around the world. The latter has been known since 1975 as The Garden.

Miss Marple misquotes from Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”: Duncan is dead (should be “Duncan’s in his grave”). After Life’s fitful fever he sleeps well.

What’s In A Name Quiz – The Answers

A number of the British Library Crime Classics contain a subtitle on the front cover. Here are the answers to last week’s quiz:

An Alpine Mystery – Crossed Skis by Carol Carnac

A Cambridge Mystery – The Incredible Crime by Lois Austen Leigh

A Christmas Crime Story – Mystery in White by J. Jefferson Farjeon & Portrait of a Murderer by Anne Meredith

A Devon Mystery – Fire in the Thatch & Murder in the Mill-Race by E. C. R. Lorac

A Fireworks Night Mystery – The Progress of a Crime by Julian Symons

A Lancashire Mystery – Fell Murder by E. C. R. Lorac

A London Mystery – Bats in the Belfry by E. C. R. Lorac, The Lost Gallows by John Dickson Carr, & Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert

A Paris Mystery – It Walks by Night & The Corpse in the Waxworks by John Dickson Carr

A Rhineland Mystery – Castle Skull by John Dickson Carr

A Seasonal Mystery – The Christmas Egg by Mary Kelly

A Second World War Mystery – Checkmate to Murder by E. C. R. Lorac, Death Has Deep Roots & Death in Captivity by Michael Gilbert, & Murder’s A Swine by Nap Lombard

A Scottish Mystery – Murder of a Lady – by Anthony Wynne

A Staffordshire Mystery – The Spoilt Kill by Mary Kelly

A Yorkshire Mystery – The Body in the Dumb River by George Bellairs

What’s In A Name Quiz

A number of the British Library Crime Classics contain a subtitle on the front cover. Can you identify the title(s) that go with these description – there are 22 books in total:

An Alpine Mystery

A Cambridge Mystery

A Christmas Crime Story

A Devon Mystery

A Fireworks Night Mystery

A Lancashire Mystery

A London Mystery

A Paris Mystery

A Rhineland Mystery

A Seasonal Mystery

A Second World War Mystery

A Scottish Mystery

A Staffordshire Mystery

A Yorkshire Mystery

The Strange Case of the Barrington Hills Vampire (2020) by James Scott Byrnside

The third book in the Rowan Manory series takes us back in time to 1920 whenVampire he has just made his name with the Case of the Bloody Shawl and as a result has been invited to speak at the annual dinner of the prestigious Detectives Club. It is this fame that causes Thomas Browning to offer him a fat fee to come to Barrington Hills to debunk a psychic who has got into the head of his business partner Hadd Mades.

Manory seems to have laid the vampire to rest with some neat explanations following a séance, particularly those relating to the original legend, but the next morning he is faced with a murder that he cannot explain.

The reader is provided with a number of floor plans, diagrams showing footprints in the snow, a dying message clue (described by Manory as “one of the seven wonders of detection” – will we ever learn what the other six are), and finally an eight part Challenge to the Reader – what more could a GAD enthusiast want?

The framing of the story with the Detectives Club dinner enables the dénouement to be played out in a way that is different from normal and the motive when it is finally revealed could have come from one of my favourite authors.

I noticed a repeating motif across the three books and it will be interesting to see if this is used again in the fourth book, publication date to be confirmed, titled The Five False Suicides which I am now awaiting with eager anticipation.

#64 – The Clocks

“I don’t understand what you mean by the ‘other clocks’. There are no other clocks in64. The Clocks the sitting-room.”

A man is found murdered by a typist, who no one will admit to hiring, in the house of a blind woman, in a room into which four clocks, all stopped at thirteen minutes past four, have been left.

Colin Lamb, a member of “the Service”, is investigating an apparently different matter, and is on hand to meet Sheila Webb (body-finder) as she flees the scene.

He is allowed to join the police investigation by his friend, Detective Inspector Richard Hardcastle, and together they interview the inhabitants of Wilbraham Crescent to see if anyone can shed any light on who the dead man is, what he might have been doing there, and whether there is any connection to Colin’s spy case.

As with “Cat Among the Pigeons” Poirot is brought into the case for no good reason than to be able to sell this as a Poirot mystery.

That being said I still enjoyed it: meeting the different characters who live in the Crescent, especially one late on who comes straight out of a Hitchcock film, and there is a very neat clue that proves Poirot’s point that if you let people talk long enough they will inevitably give themselves away.

Sure there is a repeat of a classic Christie trick relating to the second murder and then a massively unnecessary coincidence at the end but overall it is an entertaining read.

And we are given this wonderful description of a secondhand bookshop on Charing Cross Road:

“I sidled through the doorway. It was necessary to sidle since precariously arranged books impinged more and more every day on the passageway from the street. Inside, it was clear that the books owned the shop, rather than the other way about. Everywhere they had run wild and taken possession of their habitat, breeding and multiplying and clearly lacking any strong hand to keep them down.”

I look forward to being able to browse in such places again.

Recurring Character Development

Hercule Poirot

His flat number in Whitehaven Mansions is 203. The entire block is being renovated.

Although it is a warm September he already has the electric fire on.

He has been reviewing a number of historical unsolved murders, some of which have been mentioned in earlier books, including the case of Adelaide Bartlett who was accused of poisoning her husband with chloroform in 1886. However there were no burns in Edwin Bartlett’s throat which implied the liquid had been drunk quickly, indicating suicide, and she was found not guilty.

Having dealt with true crime, he then turned his attention to detective fiction including “The Leavenworth Case” (1878) by Anna Katherine Green, “The Adventures of Arsene Lupin” by Maurice Leblanc, and “The Mystery of the Yellow Room” (1907) by Gaston Leroux, which he approves of from start to finish. He also refers to fictional writers Cyril Quain, Garry Gregson, Florence Elks, and Louisa O’Malley, who various people from the Golden Age Detection Facebook group have identified as being based on Freeman Wills Crofts, John Creasey, Craig Rice, and Elizabeth Daly. He is also keen on “John Dickson Carr or Carter (Garter in my copy) Dickson, as he calls himself sometimes”.

Dick Hardcastle says he has “A lot of moustache” and Colin agrees “Oceans of it” which supports Branagh’s facial fuzz over Suchet’s.

Signs of the Times

The story is set in 1964.

Mrs Curtin “doesn’t hold with the Common Market” and neither does her husband. The UK had applied unsuccessfully to join the European Economic Community in 1962 but did become a member in 1973.

“A faint sound of remote jangling was heard inside” when the door bell was pulled puts Colin in mind of “The Moated Grange”. This seems to be a reference to Tennyson’s 1830 poem “Mariana”.

Poirot mentions a village in Somerset which does actually exist, although there is a minor difference in the spelling.

References to previous works

Mrs Oliver does not appear in person, but her photo is one those hanging in Miss Martindale’s office.

Colin’s real surname is not Lamb and he is the son of a retired policeman who worked with Poirot. Given his rank the implication is that this is Superintendent Battle.

Poirot refers to his retirement when he tried growing vegetable marrows in “The Murder of Roger Ackroyd”.

Again Poirot refers to the soap manufacturer from Liège and the link into “The Nemean Lion” from “The Labours of Hercules”.

The chief constable remembers Poirot from “The Girl Guide Murder Case” – presumably “Dead Man’s Folly”.

Sherlockian Shorts #3 – The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes – Part 1

A series of posts, containing full spoilers, as I make my way once more through the complete canon, picking out points of interest and reflecting on my personal experience of the stories.

A Scandal in Bohemia

  • If it wasn’t clear enough from the end of “The Sign of the Four” that Holmes would never marry, this story puts the final nail in that particular coffin and shows us that there will be no place for romance in these stories going forward.
  • Reading Holmes stories in anthologies such as those in the British Library Crime Classics range, the lack of the illustration is always jarring. Here we see Holmes and Watson for the first time.

  • Watson refers to “the late Irene Adler” – does that mean she is dead at the time of writing? Or simply that she now has a married name?
  • The unchronicled “Trepoff murder” in Odessa, “the singular tragedy of the Atkinson brothers at Trincomalee”, and “a mission accomplished…for the reigning family of Holland” are mentioned.
  • Watson keeps his stethoscope in his top hat!
  • Holmes tells Watson “You see, but you do not observe” and goes on to say that there are seventeen steps from the hall up to Holmes’ rooms. This explains the name of David Marcum’s excellent blog A Seventeen Step Program.
  • Although Holmes rails against Watson’s accounts of his cases, secretly he seems pleased with them as he says “I am lost without my Boswell”.
  • Holmes has already heard of Irene Adler and she is filed between “a Hebrew rabbi” and “a staff-commander who had written a monograph upon deep-sea fishes”.
  • Watson has no hesitation in breaking the law: “You don’t mind breaking the law?” “Not in the least.”

The Red-Headed League

  • After Holmes has explained his deductions about Jabez Wilson to that gentleman he receives the response: “I thought at first that you had done something clever, but I see that there was nothing in it after all.”
  • This case has Holmes stumped initially and he says: “it is quite a three-pipe problem, and I beg that you won’t speak to me for fifty minutes.”Curled
  • John Clay may be “the fourth smartest man in London, and for daring…the third” but he is definitely the stingiest! He is playing for high stakes and in saving £4 by winding up the Red-Headed League his scheme comes to nothing. I was reminded of this when reading a recent Freeman Wills Crofts novel. A criminal, again plotting to earn a vast sum of money, pawns an item that has been used in the commission of his crime, and this is traced back to him, leading ultimately to his ruin.
  • In listing the businesses found on a particular street, Holmes mentions the Vegetarian Restaurant – not something I would have expected to exist at that time.

A Case of Identity

  • This teaches us the basic lesson that it two characters are never seen at the same time then they may well be the same person.
  • If Colin Dexter had written this story then the suitor would have been called Morgan Sheel or the stepfather Jake Midbinswan. Dexter wrote the pastiche “A Case of Mis-Identity” which lifts quite liberally from this tale but adds Mycroft Holmes into the mix. It can be found in “Morse’s Greatest Mystery and Other Stories”.

Previous posts in this series:

#1 – A Study in Scarlet

#2 – The Sign of the Four

Sherlockian Shorts #2 – The Sign of the Four

A new series of posts, containing full spoilers, as I make my way once more through the complete canon, picking out points of interest and reflecting on my personal experience of the stories.

  • I generally forget that there are two “the’s” in the title and think of it as “The Sign of Four”.
  • Chapter 1 “The Science of Deduction” shares its name with Chapter 2 of “A Study in Scarlet”.
  • Watson saw signs of Holmes’ possible drug use in “A Study in Scarlet” but naively believed it to be impossible. Holmes now openly uses cocaine in front of Watson both at the beginning and end of this novella.
  • Watson’s war wound has mysteriously moved from his shoulder to his leg!
  • Watson has been to Australia – whether this was before he took his degree in 1878 or at some point between “A Study in Scarlet” and this adventure is unclear.

Previous posts in this series:

#1 – A Study in Scarlet

#63 – The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side

St Mary Mead is all a-flutter when film star Marina Gregg rents Gossington Hall and they all turn out when she opens the gardens for the benefit of the St John Ambulance Association. It is there that Heather Badcock is poisoned, an unlikely target for murder it would seem – until it is revealed that she was not the intended victim.

The book begins with Miss Marple’s open imprisonment in her own home by the well-meaning Miss Knight, a companion paid for by nephew Raymond as following a nasty case of bronchitis Dr Haydock has said “she must not go on sleeping alone in the house with only someone coming in daily”.

However she manages to trick Miss Knight into going shopping for all sorts of things that couldn’t possibly be available and she sneaks out to the Development, a new estate adjoining the village and in a short time manages to sow a seed of a doubt in the mind of a fiancée and then have a fall which leads her to meet the soon to be unlucky Heather.

This framing of the story as society continues to change from the old to the new was something I had forgotten, being more familiar with the story from the Angela Lansbury/Elizabeth Taylor film.

Due to her accident, Miss Marple is not on the scene of the crime, and so has to rely on the witness testimony to piece together what has happened.

A fine book with one of the best motives Christie ever used.

Recurring Character Development

Miss Marple

Her uncle had been a Canon of Chichester Cathedral and she had been to stay with him in the Close as a child.

She would be very old by now, at least if she is still alive, according to Chief Inspector Craddock. He calls her Aunty as a joke.

Dolly Bantry

Her husband, the Colonel, died some years ago, so she sold Gossington Hall, and moved into the East Lodge.

Signs of the Times

Mr Toms’ basket shop has been replaced by, oh horror, a supermarket. “You’re expected to take a basket yourself and go round looking for things,” says Miss Hartnell. Eventually we have ended up doing the bagging ourselves as well with self-service checkouts before things have gone full circle and now we can have our food once more delivered to the door, not by the butcher’s boy or the baker’s boy but by a representative of a national corporation.

Miss Marple passes some sinister looking young men who she takes to be Teds. The term Teddy Boys, to refer to those who dressed like the dandies of the Edwardian period of the early 20th century, had been coined in 1953.

As Miss Marple is having trouble knitting, Dr Haydock suggests that she should unravel “like Penelope”. To put off suitors in the long absence of her husband Odysseus, she weaved a burial shroud for his father, promising to remarry once it was finished, but each night she unwound it.

Hailey Preston’s views are reminiscent of those of Dr Pangloss. Professor Pangloss appeared in Voltaire’s “Candide” (1759).

Cherry refers to Haigh “who pickled them all in acid”. John Haigh (1909-49) was a convicted fraudster who decided that to avoid future imprisonment he should kill his victims to prevent them reporting his crimes. He dissolved the bodies of at least six victims in acid, wrongly believing that he could not be tried for murder in the absence of a body.

Miss Marple refers to a book by Richard Hughes about a hurricane in Jamaica. This is “A High Wind in Jamaica” (1929) also known as “The Innocent Voyage”.

References to previous works

Mention is made of events from “The Body in the Library” and “Murder at the Vicarage”. The Reverend and Mrs Clement must have left St Mary Mead as she now gets a Christmas card each year from Griselda.

Craddock refers to the “Tuesday Night Club” the group that appeared in “The Thirteen Problems”.

 

 

 

#63 – The Mirror Crack’d from Side to Side – WITH SPOILERS

St Mary Mead is all a-flutter when film star Marina Gregg rents Gossington Hall and they all turn out when she opens the gardens for the benefit of the St John Ambulance Association. It is there that Heather Badcock is poisoned, an unlikely target for murder it would seem – until it is revealed that she was not the intended victim.

The book begins with Miss Marple’s open imprisonment in her own home by the well-meaning Miss Knight, a companion paid for by nephew Raymond as following a nasty case of bronchitis Dr Haydock has said “she must not go on sleeping alone in the house with only someone coming in daily”.

However she manages to trick Miss Knight into going shopping for all sorts of things that couldn’t possibly be available and she sneaks out to the Development, a new estate adjoining the village and in a short time manages to sow a seed of a doubt in the mind of a fiancée and then have a fall which leads her to meet the soon to be unlucky Heather.

This framing of the story as society continues to change from the old to the new was something I had forgotten, being more familiar with the story from the Angela Lansbury/Elizabeth Taylor film.

Due to her accident, Miss Marple is not on the scene of the crime, and so has to rely on the witness testimony to piece together what has happened.

A fine book with one of the best motives Christie ever used.

Recurring Character Development

Miss Marple

Her uncle had been a Canon of Chichester Cathedral and she had been to stay with him in the Close as a child.

She would be very old by now, at least if she is still alive, according to Chief Inspector Craddock. He calls her Aunty as a joke.

Dolly Bantry

Her husband, the Colonel, died some years ago, so she sold Gossington Hall, and moved into the East Lodge.

Signs of the Times

Mr Toms’ basket shop has been replaced by, oh horror, a supermarket. “You’re expected to take a basket yourself and go round looking for things,” says Miss Hartnell. Eventually we have ended up doing the bagging ourselves as well with self-service checkouts before things have gone full circle and now we can have our food once more delivered to the door, not by the butcher’s boy or the baker’s boy but by a representative of a national corporation.

Miss Marple passes some sinister looking young men who she takes to be Teds. The term Teddy Boys, to refer to those who dressed like the dandies of the Edwardian period of the early 20th century, had been coined in 1953.

As Miss Marple is having trouble knitting, Dr Haydock suggests that she should unravel “like Penelope”. To put off suitors in the long absence of her husband Odysseus, she weaved a burial shroud for his father, promising to remarry once it was finished, but each night she unwound it.

Hailey Preston’s views are reminiscent of those of Dr Pangloss. Professor Pangloss appeared in Voltaire’s “Candide” (1759).

Cherry refers to Haigh “who pickled them all in acid”. John Haigh (1909-49) was a convicted fraudster who decided that to avoid future imprisonment he should kill his victims to prevent them reporting his crimes. He dissolved the bodies of at least six victims in acid, wrongly believing that he could not be tried for murder in the absence of a body.

Miss Marple refers to a book by Richard Hughes about a hurricane in Jamaica. This is “A High Wind in Jamaica” (1929) also known as “The Innocent Voyage”.

References to previous works

Mention is made of events from “The Body in the Library” and “Murder at the Vicarage”. The Reverend and Mrs Clement must have left St Mary Mead as she now gets a Christmas card each year from Griselda.

Craddock refers to the “Tuesday Night Club” the group that appeared in “The Thirteen Problems”.

SPOILERS

The motive is devastating -and in light of the current pandemic very relevant – and yet is well hidden because of the implication that it is what Marina Gregg saw that is key:

“I mean, I don’t believe she’d even heard what Mrs Badcock was saying. She was just staring with what I call this Lady of Shalott look, as though she’d seen something awful. Something frightening, something that she could hardly believe she saw and couldn’t bear to see”

Christie has used the “look over the shoulder” before and would use it again, but here it is the look here that is irrelevant in a sense because Marina heard all too clearly what Heather said.

It is a neat touch that Heather met Marina twice at events for the St John Ambulance Association, a medical organisation committed to helping people, and yet it was fatal for them both.

I like the fact that in this book Miss Marple can protect a vulnerable Gladys, something she couldn’t do in “A Pocket Full of Rye”.