Vintage Reading Challenge – July 2018

The Four Defences by J. J. Connington

Fulfils “How – crime involved fire/arson”

I have recently read two of Connington’s books featuring Sir Clinton Driffield, but this book features his secondary series’ sleuth, Mark Brand, annoyingly over-frequently referred to as The Counsellor.

The scenario is explicitly based on the infamous Rouse Case: a man’s body is found in a burnt out car that has had its numberplates removed and the engine number filed off. Witnesses who saw the fire start say that no one was near the car at the time. The coroner, a fussy man who believes himself superior to the police, sees it is a clear case of suicide and enlists Brand to gather evidence to support his theory.

Brand is an effective investigator, using his radio show to appeal for information, but he is very irritating. He orders the local policeman around but refuses to explain what he is looking for or what he concludes from it. Whereas at least Driffield as Chief Constable has the privilege of rank to excuse his behaviour, Brand’s smugness and overall attitude should be met with a long cold night in the cells.

We are treated to two separate ciphers – one that the reader could solve themselves with a little time and thought – and unsurprisingly given Connington’s day job as a scientist, a swathe of forensic evidence.

Whilst everything does fit neatly together, in particular how the cause of the motive for the crime gives rise to the means, the information is recapped twice in detail at the end, without there actually being a proper ending in my eyes.

Whilst I will have a look at some more of Driffield, I won’t be revisiting The Counsellor again.

I wrote this after seeing (but before reading) that this has been very recently reviewed at The Invisible Event, and JJ’s take is even worse than mine, but he does also provide balance with two links to more favourable reviews.

The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers

Fulfils “When – a historical crime”

Having driven into a ditch, Lord Peter Wimsey is forced to spend New Year’s Eve in the Norfolk village of Fenchurch St Paul. Here he takes part in a marathon session of church bell ringing and learns of the theft twenty years previously of an emerald necklace which has never been recovered.

A few months later a corpse that should not be there is found in a grave in the churchyard. The face has been smashed in and the hands cut off but there is no discernable cause of death. Who is it, what were they doing there, and how, if at all, does it relate to the old jewel robbery?

Another re-read, and whilst I hadn’t forgotten the one key element of the plot (probably the single most memorable thing in all of Sayers’ work), I couldn’t have told you anything else about it, so this was almost like reading it for the first time. Another fine entry in the Wimsey series, and it doesn’t feature Harriet Vane which may attract or repel potential readers.

Stop Press by Michael Innes

Michael Innes was really the acadmic J. I. M. Stewart so fulfils “What – pseudonymous author”

Richard Eliot has written thirty-seven novels featuring The Spider, who began life as a master criminal before turning gamekeeper in the form of a private detective. But now it seems that his creation has come to life: Spider-like crimes are committed, then solved, apparently by the perpetrator; the latest Spider manuscripts are being secretly altered; but most worrying for Eliot is that someone is doing things in the Spider’s name that he has already thought of but has never put down on paper.

Eliot seems to be cracking under the strain and so his family between them bring an Oxford don, a psychiatrist and a policeman to the annual Spider jamboree in the hope of discovering what is going on. However, the Spider has only just got started and his exploits become ever more daring and macabre – can a tragedy be averted?

The ideas involved are quite interesting, and quite meta with a detective novelist writing about a detective novelist, but at five hundred pages this could have done with a lot more editing, especially as after all that the ending is a bit rushed, although the reasoning of how the Spider has read Eliot’s mind is well done, particularly given some dubious possibilities discussed earlier in the book.

This is definitely not for someone coming to Innes for the first time, and neither is Lament for a Maker (unreviewed here but not for those who have a dislike for sections written in Scottish dialect) but if you’ve not tried him before, I will keep on plugging Death at the President’s Lodging and Hamlet, Revenge!





#12 – The Mysterious Mr Quin

Mr Satterthwaite has spent a lifetime observing the drama of humanity, but when he meets the catalysing Mr Harley Quin, he is able to put his experience to good use in resolving mysterious, and even murderous, situations.

The cases presented are:

1. The Coming of Mr Quin

2. The Shadow on the Glass

3. At the “Bells and Motley”

4. The Sign in the Sky

5. The Soul of the Croupier

6. The Man from the Sea

7. The Voice in the Dark

8. The Face of Helen

9. The Dead Harlequin

10. The Bird with the Broken Wing

11. The World’s End

12. Harlequin’s Lane

The original publication order in UK magazines is slightly different and is 1, 2, 4, 3, 5, 11, 7, 8, 12, 9, 6 with no known magazine publication of 10. For all that I am puzzled about what actually happens in 12, it is fitting that it ends this collection.

The better stories are those where old cases are reviewed, and by talking them over, new light is shed upon the facts. This is best illustrated in the first story where several people share their memories of an event, which when combined shed light on what has happened. A key theme running through this type of story is the injustice suffered when a crime is unsolved, but suspicion remains attached to those who cannot prove their innocence. Here, rather than being an avenger e.g. Miss Marple in “Nemesis” who searches out the guilty for punishment, Mr Quin through Mr Satterthwaite is one who restores the reputation of the innocent.

Whilst Mr Satterthwaite comes to believe that there is something supernatural about Mr Quin – I had wanted to take a detailed look at his activities to determine whether everything that he does could be rooted in the natural but time has got the better of me– the solutions to the problems they face are all real.

Overall, I was slightly disappointed in re-reading this collection as some of the stories (5 and 6 in particular) aren’t that strong. It didn’t help reading it just after Partners in Crime as that was better than I remembered.

Recurring character development

Mr Satterthwaite

In the first story he is sixty-two and described as “a little bent, dried-up man with a peering face oddly elflike”. By the sixth story he is sixty-nine.

Seems to “matter so little, to have so negative a personality, is merely a glorified listener”.

Employs a chauffeur called Masters, who drives his Rolls Royce, and an unnamed cordon bleu chef.

Knows everybody, including the Commissioner of Police.

Has a valuable art collection.

Reserves a box at the Covent Garden Opera House on Tuesdays and Fridays during the season.

Signs of the Times

Derek Capel was in the running for the Benedick stakes (1). Referring to Shakespeare’s “Much Ado About Nothing”, this implies that he was likely to get married soon.

Mr Quin recommends that Mr Satterthwaite should study The Harlequinade (1). This is an English variant of the Italian Commedia dell’arte and used to be part of a pantomime. The characters are Harlequin, Columbine, Pantaloon, Pierrot and the Clown.

Lady Cynthia uses the song lyric “great big bears and tigers” to refer to Richard Scott, the Big Game man (2). This may be deliberately ironic as the line appears in the first verse, which is about a trip to the zoo, of a song called “Come Along With Me” taken from the 1903 musical “The Orchid”.

Mr Satterthwaite quotes the line about the evil that men do living after them (2). This is taken from Mark Antony’s speech at Caesar’s funeral in Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar” which I remember well from Year 9 SATS.

The third story takes place in 1925.

1924 is described as the age of Crossword Puzzles and Cat Burglars (3).

The fourth story takes place in 1929.

Mr Quin says there are reasons why he is attracted to the opera “Pagliacci” (8). It was written in 1892 by Ruggero Leoncavallo and features clowns and a murder, which is presumably what he is referring to.

The new tenor is said to be a second Caruso (8). Enrico Caruso (1873 – 1921) was the premier tenor of his generation, and the first major classical vocalist to make numerous recordings of his work.

Four members of the house party do table turning (10). This practice was exported from the USA to Europe in 1852 and was a forerunner of the Ouija board which dates from the 1880s.

Mr Right is considered to be an old fashioned expression (10). I would have assumed it to be a relatively recent term but it can be found as far back as 1796.

The song sung by Mabelle Annesley is “A Swan” with Edvard Grieg’s music added to a poem by Henrik Ibsen (10).

Mr Vyse refers to the play “Riders from the Sea” (11). This was written by John Millington Synge (1871 – 1909) and was first performed in 1904.

Mr Tomlinson refers to the play “Jim the Penman” (11). This was written by Charles Lawrence Young and was filmed in 1915 and 1921.

Mr Satterthwaite’s quote “Bring me the two most beautiful things in the city, said God” is from the end of Oscar Wilde’s short story “The Happy Prince” (12).

Vintage Reading Challenge

Messrs Satterthwaite and Quin are “Who – an amateur detective”.