Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert (1950)

Having enjoyed Gilbert’s short stories which have appeared in the BLCC anthologies, particularly “Cousin Once Removed” from “Resorting to Murder”, and knowing the reputation of this book, I was very excited to see it and two others by the same author appear in the BLCC schedule almost a year ago.

The recently deceased Abel Horniman, former lead partner of the law firm Horniman, Birley and Craine, as well as being a great lawyer was also an administrative genius having created a filing system that is second to none and a patent dust-proof, moisture-proof, air-proof and most importantly mouse-proof deed box. Whilst the latter are excellent for protecting clients’ documents someone has also figured out that one would make a good hiding place for a corpse as when the Stokes Will Trust box is opened, the last remaining trustee is found within it having been there for some weeks.

Henry Bohun, as a brand new member of the firm, is immediately discounted as a suspect and is used by Inspector Hazlerigg as his inside man, which combined with the well realised workplace setting, made it reminiscent of Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers.

The writing style is not laugh out loud funny, but kept a wry smile on my lips with descriptions such as:

“The Reverend Eustace, a vast red man who had taken his college eight to the head of the river in ’08, sinking outright two of the four boats which stood in his way, and had been treating the powers of darkness in the same summary manner ever since, welcomed Sergeant Plumptree with a paralysing handshake and invited him round to a cup of cocoa.”

And then just a little later on the same character says:

“I can’t think why people should glorify beer at the expense of cocoa. It was that hearty vulgarian, Chesterton, who started it…”

There is also a short discussion between Hazlerigg and Bohun on the differences between mystery fiction and real-life police work – score one on the GAD bingo card – and elsewhere an observation that everything should be wrapped up in chapter sixteen, in a book that has sixteen chapters!

Bohun has an interesting personal idiosyncrasy which enables part of the solution to be presented to him in a most unexpected manner and there is a fair division between his amateur sleuthing and Hazlerigg’s official investigation with both helping reveal the truth.

Overall it doesn’t quite live up to its exalted reputation, but only by a sliver, so I can definitely give this a good recommendation.

Vintage Mystery Challenge

Fulfils “Why – Has been reviewed by a fellow challenger” – see Rekha’s review at The Book Decoder here.

 

 

 

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Hard Cheese by Ulf Durling (1971)

Pensioners Carl Bergman, Efraim Nylander, and Johan Lundgren meet weekly to discuss detective fiction ranging from Queen and Carr and their GAD brethren to the more modern Highsmith and Bingham. Each takes it in turn to present the details of a book which the other two must then attempt to solve.

This week Carl deviates from the usual formula by introducing a real-life case that has just taken place in their small town. The details have been provided by his police sergeant son, Gunnar. As they start to discuss what has happened they realise they are dealing with a locked room mystery!

“We looked at each other, amazed and dumbfounded. It reminded me of one Christmas Eve when, as a child, I looked in disbelief at a set of tin soldiers I had dreamed about but never dared hope for.”

During the evening they draw a number of conclusions from the evidence and go so far as to reconnoitre the crime scene to put some of them to the test. Satisfied with their good work, Johan writes up their findings and sends them to Bergman Jr.

He is not at all impressed with their ideas or interference and presents an account of the official investigation. Though some of the police work is lackadaisical, he believes that he has cracked the case.

And yet it is only when we move onto a third narrator that the truth is fully revealed.

I bought this particular LRI title because of the book group discussion element and I have said before that I love this style of mystery. Lundgren is an unintentionally comic narrator and the police sergeant’s narrative reveals some deliberate gaps in the former’s report and had me laughing out loud with a delayed punchline for at least half the book.  Gunnar’s account is deliberately comic in tone, although his attempts to be a Chandleresque cynical hardman are somewhat undermined by domestic incidents that will strike a chord with parents everywhere.

I thought I was getting towards a solution, but whether this was a deliberate deception or I was being too clever for my own good I’m not sure. The solution is very clever, although almost all readers would struggle to solve it fully themselves.

That however did not matter to me. This is both homage and a Berkeleyian style send-up of the Golden Age Mystery with references such as:

“I won’t burden you with detailed timetables – if you find that kind of thing interesting, pick up any book by Freeman Wills Croft.”

It is possible that this book is Durling’s riposte to the Martin Beck series of police procedurals by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö (godparents of Scandi-noir) which were trying to make serious points about Swedish society, although they had their own share of comic relief with incompetent patrol car duo Kvant and Kristiansson.

Incidentally, from the translation I am forced to conclude that the Swedish for humour and grey (or some other colour) must be very similar as one lady is described as “humour-haired” and one man as  having “humour hair, a humour moustache, and wearing a humourish-brown striped suit”. Alternatively this may be a printing idiosyncracy similar to the one in “Come to Paddington Fair” which rendered the “m” of “matinée” as a small square on each appearance – which was relatively frequent for a book set in a theatre!

NB: Spoilers of varying degrees are given for Crooked House, The Red House Mystery, and The Tragedy of Y.

 

 

 

 

Dine with Murder by Michael Halliday (1950)

I picked this up from a charity shop a year ago with a view to this year’s Vintage Mystery Challenge as I had never heard of the author and the risk at 50p was minimal. Looking on Wikipedia I found that Michael Halliday was one of the 20+ pseudonyms of John Creasey, who churned out over 600 novels over forty years.

Jim Abbott is reluctant to attend his company’s Annual Dinner and Dance because he is due to give a speech praising his boss, Sir Henry Moffat who he doesn’t really like. Having got blood from a shaving cut on his dress shirt he is ready to call the whole thing off until he is helped out by Moffat’s secretary, Hetty Lane, and a new neighbour from the flat downstairs.

The evening goes well enough until Abbott is saved from delivering his speech when Sir Henry collapses during his own address. An hour later he is dead from strychnine poisoning and soon Abbott finds himself a primary suspect in a murder case.

This is definitely a thriller rather than a fair-play mystery as Abbott survives multiple attacks and has to determine who he can trust, particularly regarding his new neighbour who has secrets of her own.

Not a particularly good book, but an interesting reference to “an over-stocked larder, with far more food than you’d expect to find in one person’s cupboard in such austere times. A tin of biscuits, labelled by a famous maker, was a pre-war sight.” A reminder that rationing of some items in the UK continued until as late as 1954.

Vintage Mystery Challenge

Fulfils “Why – Out of your comfort zone”.

 

 

 

A Crime in Rhyme

A couple of months ago I was browsing some backposts at The Invisible Event and came across JJ’s celebration of John Dickson Carr 110th birthday which led me to Brad’s contribution at ahsweetmysteryblog which contained the challenge to complete a GAD mystery poem.

Being too nervous to watch Trump (Judd, not Donald) possibly throw away a massive lead in the World Snooker Championship, I set my mind on a task that no one had tried in the previous two and a half years, the results are below, the dotted line indicates where Brad left off and I continued. I hope you enjoy!

Lord Burlington Brown

Was a man of renown,

Finding modern age devils

And hunting them down.

 

“Evil lurks,” so he said.

“I have stalked the undead!

I’ve seen sights that would fill

Any mortal with dread!”

 

At his club he held court.

And although he was short,

He weighed full twenty stone

And would not give up port.

 

There he sat like a whale,

And each member regale

With his exploits so grim

That the others turned pale.

 

Though one man you could tell

Thought the stories were swell

‘Twas Lord Burlington’s pal,

Dr. Gideon Fell.

 

“Good Lord, Brown!” Fell would say,

“I admire the way

You dispatched twenty zombies

Ere night turned to day.

 

“Now please tell me again

How you drew up the plan

To lay waste to the werewolf

Who walked like a man.”

 

“Listen, Fell,” said old Brown,

“No, sir, put your drink down,

And accompany me

Back to old Camden town.

 

“I’ve invited some friends

For a quiet weekend.

There’s a serious matter

To which I must attend.

 

“Would it give you a fright

If I told you outright

We’ll encounter the Devonshire

Vampire tonight?”

 

Fell let out a great wheeze

And cried, “Burlington, geez,

If you do know the Vampire

Then out with it, please!

 

If this isn’t a jest

And the Vampire’s your guest

Name him now! I’ll call Hadley

To make the arrest.”

 

“I will not name the ghoul.

Sorry, that is my rule.”

To which Fell simply spluttered,

“Brown, don’t be a fool!”

 

“I don’t think that I can

Quite accede to your plan

Till the last piece of evidence

Falls in my hand.

 

“With the skill of a lover

I’ll blow the fiend’s cover

By tomorrow at midnight

I’ll hand the man over!”

 

Thus, with feelings of dread,

Dr. Fell shook his head

For he sensed by tomorrow

His friend would be dead.

 

And he knew by the time

We were half through this rhyme

That he’d soon have to face

An impossible crime!

*     *     *     *     *

Fell repaired to Brown’s manse

By the seat of his pants.

He would capture the Strangler

If given the chance.

 

But his train journey led

To a dark night of dread

For the lord of the manor

Fell soon learned was dead.

 

In a hut in the wood

In that same neighborhood

They discovered Lord Burlington

Finished for good.

 

In a chair he was sittin’,

His throat had been bitten,

And the door was too small

For the late Lord to fit in.

 

And standing outside

Of this strange homicide

Were four guests who insisted

They’d nothing to hide:

 

The dead man’s stepson Mark

His fiancée Miss Park

And two builders, both brothers,

Named John and Jim Park.

 

One of this fine quartet

Had killed Brown, Fell would bet.

Were they also the Vampire?

He wasn’t sure yet.

—————————

No more happened that night
Hadley arrived at first light
Fell met the early train
Then showed him the site.

“I still don’t yet know
How he entered so low?”
“It’s clear,” Hadley said,
There’s a big open window.”

Fell shook his great head
And angrily said
“Brad omitted that fact
We’ve all been misled.”

There was a sound in the trees
Fell started to wheeze
Something dropped from above
They all fell to their knees.

Three shapes most assorted
With faces weirdly distorted
A trio not of this world
And so Fell retorted:

“We have been taken for fools,
Someone’s broken Knox’ rules.
This place is haunted.
He was killed by some ghouls!”

“Get back to hell!”
Bellowed Gideon Fell.
The three disappeared
To where, no one can tell.

You may say it’s unfair
But I really don’t care
As with Death Watch
Much good is still there.

If you can come up with a genuine fairplay solution then please let me know.

The Siamese Twin Mystery by Ellery Queen (1933)

Ellery and Inspector Queen are returning cross-country from a holiday when a forest fire forces them up a mountain to seek shelter. They meet another car coming down but despite their warning the driver presses on. Finally they arrive at the mountain top and find what initially seems to be a deserted house. After much banging at the door they are welcomed in by Dr John Xavier who introduces the Queens to his wife, brother, assistant, and a lady guest. There is a tension in the air and this is not helped when the Inspector briefly glimpses a strange Thing in a corridor.

Having gone to bed fully expecting the fire to be dealt with by the authorities, father and son instead wake up to a corpse with a clue in its dead hand, and the realisation that the flames may engulf them, if a killer doesn’t get to them first…

It is one thing to be trapped on an island or to be snowed in with a killer because at least you can try to take precautions whilst awaiting rescue. In this scenario physical room for manoeuvre becomes increasingly more difficult and the suffocating heat is not conducive to clear thought. It definitely makes me glad to live in a place where such a conflagration is unlikely when such tragedies appear to be coming more frequent in Australia and the USA.

I fell into most of the traps that Queen lays for the reader and the solution was definitely a surprise to me.

Again, this was an example of where a chronogical reading of the entire GAD canon would be advantageous because by chance I recently read a book – not reviewed on the blog – that must have been inspired by this story.

 

 

 

 

#33 – Murder is Easy

Luke Fitzwilliam, newly returned to England, meets Lavinia Pinkerton as she is on her way to Scotland Yard to report a series of murders. He doesn’t believe her story but is forced to think again after reading that she died in a hit and run accident and that the man she expected to be killed next has also died.

Posing as both an author with an interest in rural folklore and as the cousin of his best friend’s cousin, Bridget Conway, he inveigles himself into the village of Wychwood-under-Ashe.

Here he investigates the deaths of the five possible victims to date, trying to find a connection between them and the other villagers, one of whom may be, beneath their normal outward appearance, a cunning serial killer.

I have only read this once before and it is much better than I remembered. if I had not come across the killer’s identity from too much Sporcling, I think I would have been fooled again.

Sadly we see too little of Miss Pinkerton who, with her belief that “the world is a very wicked place”, is a parallel of Miss Marple but without a nephew or police commissioner that she can share her suspicions with.

Signs of the Times

Luke arrives back in England on the day of the Derby, which would make it the first Wednesday in June (since 1995 it has moved to the first Saturday). The Derby was first run in 1780 and is considered the most prestigious of the five annual classic flat races.

Having not got back on his train Luke rattles of what seems to be a string of four quotes yet I can only find details of two of them. “Quoth the raven ‘Nevermore'” is from Edgar Allan Poe’s 1845 poem “The Raven”. “The moving finger writes; and having writ moves on” is from “The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam” which Christie would later use a the title of a Miss Marple novel.

Miss Pinkerton laments the abolition of second class rail travel. Most railways had done this in the late 19th century, although the Great Western Railway did it as late as 1910. Third class was renamed second class in 1956 and then became standard class in the 1980s.

The Abercrombie Poisoning Case sounds like a genuine story but I can find no reference to it. Poirot and Japp solved the undocumented Abercrombie Forgery Case.

Jimmy Lorrimer suggests that Miss Pinkerton was run over because she trusted to a Belisha beacon. Named after Leslie Hore-Belisha, Minister of Transport, this familiar British signal was added in 1934 to pedestrian crossings which up to then had only been marked by large metal studs in the road. The black (initially blue) and white stripes were added from 1949 to make the zebra crossing we know today.

Lorrimer owns a Ford V 8. This had been introduced in 1932, initially known as the Model 18, but it took its nickname from its flathead V8 engine.

Luke hums “the fly has married the bumblebee”, a nursery rhyme that I had never heard of. It turns out that Parson Beetle conducted the ceremony.

On first seeing Bridget Conway, Luke is reminded of Nevinson’s “Witch”. This is probably “An Inexperienced Witch” painted by C. R. W. Nevinson (1889-1946) best known for his pictures of the First World War.

Miss Waynflete went to Girton College. It was founded in 1869 as the first women’s college in Cambridge and was given full college status by the university in 1948.

Luke says “anybody who can believe six impossible things before breakfast wins hands down at this game” a reference to the White Queen in Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass”.

After sketching out some possibilities Luke says “-which is absurd. How nicely Euclid put things.” Reductio ad absurdum is a form of logical proof where a statement can be proved to be true or false by assuming the opposite and following it to a contradictory conclusion (one of my favourites is the proof that there is no largest prime number and so the primes are infinite). The method was developed by Greek philosophers and mathematicians, including Euclid.

Luke refers to the Witch of Endor who appears in 1 Samuel Chapter 28.

Kreuzhammer’s “Inferiority and Crime” owned by Dr Thomas, and the case studies cited therein, seems to be a fictional work.

Major Horton has copies of “Country Life”. This is a weekly magazine first published in 1897 when its main content was golf and horse racing.

Luke quotes “I do not like thee, Dr Fell, the reason why I cannot tell.” The full quote ends “but this I know and know full well, I do not like thee Dr Fell.” It is said that this was Tom Brown’s (1662-1704) on the spot translation of Martial’s thirty-second epigram which had been set as a challenge by John Fell with the reward being the cancellation of his expulsion from Christ Church, Oxford.

Mrs Church refers to the violently horrible Castor case which is another fictional example of multiple murder. Searching for this I found that Stacey Castor (1967-2016) poisoned two husbands and then tried to frame her daughter for the crimes.

Miss Waynflete refers to the Science Museum in London. This traces its origins back to 1857 when Bennet Woodcroft opened the South Kensington Museum. The Arts parts of this collection became the Victoria and Albert Museum whilst the Sciences elements were split off, finally becoming an independent entity in 1909. The current building was built 1929-1938.

Lord Whitfield refers to the bears that devoured the children who mocked Elisha which occurs in 2 Kings Chapter 2.

The chapter title “O Why Do You Walk Through the Fields in Gloves” is taken from Frances Cornford’s 1910 poem “To a Fat Lady Seen from a Train”. G. K. Chesterton wrote a response in his 1927 poem “The Fat Lady Answers”.

References to previous works

The Wychwood pub is called “The Bells and Motley”. Mr Satterthwaite met Mr Quin in a pub with the same name but in a different village in The Mysterious Mr Quin.

Vintage Mystery Challenge

Fulfils “Where– Set in a small village”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#33 – Murder is Easy – WITH SPOILERS

Luke Fitzwilliam, newly returned to England, meets Lavinia Pinkerton as she is on her way to Scotland Yard to report a series of murders. He doesn’t believe her story but is forced to think again after reading that she died in a hit and run accident and that the man she expected to be killed next has also died.

Posing as both an author with an interest in rural folklore and as the cousin of his best friend’s cousin, Bridget Conway, he inveigles himself into the village of Wychwood-under-Ashe.

Here he investigates the deaths of the five possible victims to date, trying to find a connection between them and the other villagers, one of whom may be, beneath their normal outward appearance, a cunning serial killer.

I have only read this once before and it is much better than I remembered. if I had not come across the killer’s identity from too much Sporcling, I think I would have been fooled again.

Sadly we see too little of Miss Pinkerton who, with her belief that “the world is a very wicked place”, is a parallel of Miss Marple but without a nephew or police commissioner that she can share her suspicions with.

Signs of the Times

Luke arrives back in England on the day of the Derby, which would make it the first Wednesday in June (since 1995 it has moved to the first Saturday). The Derby was first run in 1780 and is considered the most prestigious of the five annual classic flat races.

Having not got back on his train Luke rattles of what seems to be a string of four quotes yet I can only find details of two of them. “Quoth the raven ‘Nevermore'” is from Edgar Allan Poe’s 1845 poem “The Raven”. “The moving finger writes; and having writ moves on” is from “The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam” which Christie would later use a the title of a Miss Marple novel.

Miss Pinkerton laments the abolition of second class rail travel. Most railways had done this in the late 19th century, although the Great Western Railway did it as late as 1910. Third class was renamed second class in 1956 and then became standard class in the 1980s.

The Abercrombie Poisoning Case sounds like a genuine story but I can find no reference to it. Poirot and Japp solved the undocumented Abercrombie Forgery Case.

Jimmy Lorrimer suggests that Miss Pinkerton was run over because she trusted to a Belisha beacon. Named after Leslie Hore-Belisha, Minister of Transport, this familiar British signal was added in 1934 to pedestrian crossings which up to then had only been marked by large metal studs in the road. The black (initially blue) and white stripes were added from 1949 to make the zebra crossing we know today.

Lorrimer owns a Ford V 8. This had been introduced in 1932, initially known as the Model 18, but it took its nickname from its flathead V8 engine.

Luke hums “the fly has married the bumblebee”, a nursery rhyme that I had never heard of. It turns out that Parson Beetle conducted the ceremony.

On first seeing Bridget Conway, Luke is reminded of Nevinson’s “Witch”. This is probably “An Inexperienced Witch” painted by C. R. W. Nevinson (1889-1946) best known for his pictures of the First World War.

Miss Waynflete went to Girton College. It was founded in 1869 as the first women’s college in Cambridge and was given full college status by the university in 1948.

Luke says “anybody who can believe six impossible things before breakfast wins hands down at this game” a reference to the White Queen in Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking Glass”.

After sketching out some possibilities Luke says “-which is absurd. How nicely Euclid put things.” Reductio ad absurdum is a form of logical proof where a statement can be proved to be true or false by assuming the opposite and following it to a contradictory conclusion (one of my favourites is the proof that there is no largest prime number and so the primes are infinite). The method was developed by Greek philosophers and mathematicians, including Euclid.

Luke refers to the Witch of Endor who appears in 1 Samuel Chapter 28.

Kreuzhammer’s “Inferiority and Crime” owned by Dr Thomas, and the case studies cited therein, seems to be a fictional work.

Major Horton has copies of “Country Life”. This is a weekly magazine first published in 1897 when its main content was golf and horse racing.

Luke quotes “I do not like thee, Dr Fell, the reason why I cannot tell.” The full quote ends “but this I know and know full well, I do not like thee Dr Fell.” It is said that this was Tom Brown’s (1662-1704) on the spot translation of Martial’s thirty-second epigram which had been set as a challenge by John Fell with the reward being the cancellation of his expulsion from Christ Church, Oxford.

Mrs Church refers to the violently horrible Castor case which is another fictional example of multiple murder. Searching for this I found that Stacey Castor (1967-2016) poisoned two husbands and then tried to frame her daughter for the crimes.

Miss Waynflete refers to the Science Museum in London. This traces its origins back to 1857 when Bennet Woodcroft opened the South Kensington Museum. The Arts parts of this collection became the Victoria and Albert Museum whilst the Sciences elements were split off, finally becoming an independent entity in 1909. The current building was built 1929-1938.

Lord Whitfield refers to the bears that devoured the children who mocked Elisha which occurs in 2 Kings Chapter 2.

The chapter title “O Why Do You Walk Through the Fields in Gloves” is taken from Frances Cornford’s 1910 poem “To a Fat Lady Seen from a Train”. G. K. Chesterton wrote a response in his 1927 poem “The Fat Lady Answers”.

References to previous works

The Wychwood pub is called “The Bells and Motley”. Mr Satterthwaite met Mr Quin in a pub with the same name but in a different village in The Mysterious Mr Quin.

Vintage Mystery Challenge

Fulfils “Where– Set in a small village”.

SPOILERS

Already knowing that Miss Waynflete was the killer, it is clear from what Miss Pinkerton says that there is no reason to assume that the murderer is male, so the careful reader may pick up on this and have an easier time in solving this one. The erroneous assumption of a murderer’s gender is much better done in a later Christie.

It is cleverer that Luke assumes that because it was a hit and run it is the car driver who has killed Miss Pinkerton, especially when it is found that eyewitnesses have given the registration number of Lord Whitfield’s Rolls Royce, when in actual fact timing such an event would be very difficult and the classic push off the kerb is much easier and less risky.

There is a good pool of suspects and then the switch to the megalomaniacal Lord Whitfield as the “definite” killer is well done. We have (due to the staccato speech of the upper classes) his confession of killing the canary, coupled with Miss Waynflete’s account of the same event, evidence of much earlier instability, and yet is that which causes Bridget, knowing him so well, to begin to see things the right way round – classic Christie!