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!

 

 

 

 

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