Vintage Reading Challenge – December 2018

Love Lies Bleeding by Edmund Crispin

Fulfils “Where – at a school”

Dr Stanford, headmaster of Castrevenford School, is worried: one of his boys has been getting too close to a girl from Castrevenford High School for Girls, some acid from the chemistry lab has gone missing, and tomorrow is Speech Day. His day gets significantly worse when he is notified of two violent deaths in the space of five minutes.

Series’ sleuth Gervase Fen is already on the scene, having been invited at the last minute to give out the prizes. Why does he find a folded square of blotting paper of interest? Why is he convinced that a disappearance will lead to another body? And how much will the dribbling Mr Merrythought impede his progress?

This was another title I bought specifically to complete the reading challenge but this time it was an unqualified success.

A solid mystery is surrounded by brilliant, comic writing, but this is necessarily tempered in places by the serious business of murder, especially where children are involved. One self-referential example is:

“I’ve seen your photo in the papers,” the young woman proceeded, “and I’ve followed all your cases.”

“Ha!” Fen exclaimed, much pleased. “That’s more than Crispin’s readers manage to do.”

I think most readers will have fun with this book but I would advise avoiding the Pan Classic Crime version (not shown here) with its spoilerific cover and even the list of chapters.

Portrait of a Murderer by Anne Meredith

Fulfils “When – during a recognised holiday”

“Adrian Gray was born in May 1862 and met his death through violence, at the hands of one of his own children, at Christmas, 1931.”

This is a promising start and similar to Christianna Brand’s  Green for Danger where we are given a closed circle of suspects in the first chaper, but here the identity of the killer is actually revealed less than a quarter of the way through the book.

This is then no puzzle-based mystery, rather a depressing study of a crime, where both victim, killer, and the majority of the family members are deeply unpleasant people, with few redeeming features.

Although I was not that engaged in the middle section, the ending did bring about an interesting resolution of sorts, and some of the characters were well-drawn, with Sergeant Ross Murray, purely due to his back story, deserving cases of his own.

Despite the general grimness there is some levity and I loved this line which sums up the pompousness of a career politician:

“Richard invariably spoke as though he carried a reporter in his waistcoat pocket.”

And for the bibliophile there are these wonderful words:

“I’ve discovered a dormant hunger for books that I believe will swell eventually to a passion. I get pleasure just from handling them. I begin to find a room empty and spiritless if books don’t form part of the furnishing. I’ve even begun to buy books of my own.”

It’s the end…but the moment has been prepared for

Having exceeded my plans and successfully completed the 2018 challenge in full (and been fortunate enough to be a checkpoint prize winner) I have signed up for the expanded 2019 version and I will be tracking my progress here. So as well as the scheduled twenty-four Agatha Christie titles, the blog will also feature a number of impossible crimes from the pens of Anthony Boucher, John Dickson Carr, Hake Talbot, and Israel Zangwill, alongside generous helpings of Raymond Chandler, Michael Innes, Gladys Mitchell, Ellery Queen, Georges Simenon, and others, plus a trip into the future with the incomparable Isaac Asimov.

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