#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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Swapping is the Future (You Know That It Would Suit You)

If you’re going to Bodies from the Library 2019 or live in the Bristol area then I’ve got two books that I’m looking to swap for whatever book you might want to suggest:

Cinderella Goes to the Morgue by Nancy Spain – I’m going to be honest not a good book at all. But if you have liked the author in the past or have a particular interest in theatrically set mysteries then you find something to enjoy. Condition: Hardback with no dustjacket.

No Past is Dead by J. J. Connington – long story but I have a spare copy of this. I haven’t read it yet but according to Curtis Evans it is “one of the few bright spots in his later work”.                     Condition: As New.

 

 

 

Please let me know if you’re interested in the comments below or by DMing me on Facebook.

The Seat of the Scornful by John Dickson Carr (1941)

Mr. Justice Horace Ireton is known to be just but also slightly sadistic: he condemns a man to death who he later plans to spare and appears lenient to a man who he then recalls twice to the dock for additional sentencing. Definitely not a man to be trifled with.

But Tony Morell does just that and is found shot dead in Ireton’s living room with Ireton holding a gun – an open and shut case it would seem, yet this is GAD fiction and John Dickson Carr in particular.

Dr Fell has been unexpectedly given some information which proves pertinent to the case just before he is called in by the police and he is able to use this, along with other observations, to find a wily killer.

Psychologically everything just about hangs together, but on a practical level not so much, despite what the internet says.

I deliberately haven’t written much about what happens having thought more about spoilers and so my non-Agatha Christie reviews may become very short in future. This is because I had the pleasure of reading Carter Dickson’s “She Died A Lady” without knowing anything about it (although I realised later that I had read someone’s review but fortunately only retained one piece of completely non-pertinent information). Thus  I had no idea who was going to be done in or in what manner that would appear to be impossible, and with this book in particular it is not clear who the victim is to be, and this greatly enhanced my enjoyment of the first chapters. Normally the reader is just waiting for what the blurb tells you is going to happen which can sometimes be considerable – the blurb on the first version of Christie’s “The ABC Murders” gets you almost halfway through the book.

In an ideal world maybe you would just have a few known, trustworthy reviewers who would simply say nothing about a book apart from things like: “Add it to (the top of – delete as applicable) your TBR at once!”, “Better than X, but not as good as Y”, “Wait until it is on sale”, “For completists only” or “Don’t waste your life on this even if offered free on Kindle”.

On those lines I would some up this book (also known under the better title of “Death Turns the Table”) as “fine as part of a four volume omnibus, I’d pay up to £3 for a standalone copy”.

So that completes my JDC reading for the time being. Only two weeks to conference – get excited!

Vintage Mystery Challenge

Fulfils “Who – Lawyer/barrister/judge”.

 

 

 

Maigret’s Doubts by Georges Simenon (1958)

A man comes to Maigret’s office saying he believes his wife is trying to poison him but leaves before giving his name. Later that day the wife visits Maigret to give her version of events. Maigret is concerned but as no crime has been committed what can he do?

As it is the quiet period just after Christmas, Maigret does some digging and finds that both husband and wife have reasons for wanting the other dead. For once can he solve a murder before it occurs?

I am reading through the whole series of Penguin’s new translations but haven’t picked one up for what feels like a long time. Happily, this felt like putting on a comfortable pair of old slippers. The nicest touches here are when Maigret thinks about his marriage and the affection that exists between him and his wife, which seems to be absent from that of his potential suspects.

Although this was written thirteen years after World War II this is the first time that I’ve noticed any reference to it having taken place. But then the series does not place in a systematic world. Lapointe remains permanently young and here has only been working with Maigret for two years. There is some reference to Maigret having been working for only twenty years. This whole idea is dealt with in “Maigret’s Memoirs” where it is shown that Simenon has essentially fictionalised Maigret’s real cases for the benefit of the public.

A solid entry in the series to be enjoyed by existing fans but probably not by those that aren’t.

Vintage Mystery Challenge

Fulfils “Who – Main sleuth is a professional”.

 

 

 

Duck Season Death by June Wright (c.1955)

Athol Sefton, publisher of the quarterly magazine “Culture and Critic”, is shot dead whilst duck hunting. Whilst the local police are happy to treat it as an accident, his nephew Charles is convinced that it is murder and using skills learned from reviewing detective fiction decides to solve the case himself.

He rapidly finds that there is no shortage of suspects staying with him at The Duck and Dog Inn, some of whom may be better shots than they let on. At first nobody takes him seriously, but when they do he begins to wish they had not as he changes from hunter to hunted.

There is no shortage of deliberate humour in this send-up of the genre but there was a sudden shift in tone towards the end that caught me by surprise so that the final solution was different to what I was expecting. Perhaps it just goes to show that ultimately murder is no laughing matter.

Although Hutchinson and Co. had published three books by Wright (including Murder in the Telephone Exchange and The Devil’s Caress) this manuscript was rejected and remained unpublished until 2015. Whilst quite different from those books there is no obvious reason for their decision. I enjoyed both the humour and the mystery and overall from reading four Wright titles it is clear that she was a versatile writer who was unafraid to try different thing. She recovered from this setback to create Mother Paul who appeared in three books from 1958-1966.

Vintage Mystery Challenge

Fulfils “What – Comic/humorous novel”.

 

 

 

My Name in Books

I’ve only just seen this game from reading some other people’s blog backposts. Although I now almost only read classic crime fiction, as a child and teenager I was a voracious reader, so here’s a selection of other things that make me tick – Agatha Christie excluded – with initials that spell out my online name:

Caves of Steel, The – Isaac Asimov

My Dad had a good collection of Asimov paperbacks and whilst Asimov is probably a better short story writer than a novelist, this is a good read and significant as possibly the first detective novel set in the future. I will be re-reading this later in the year and doing a full review then.

Odessa File, The – Frederick Forsyth

Borrowed from King Edward VII Upper School Library and taken daringly (in retrospect stupidly) on German Exchange. I love an intelligent thriller and this really delivers. It would be a fine book even without the twist that changes the whole way that the reader then looks back on the story. I was also able to borrow The Day of the Jackal and The Dogs of War alongside books by Alistair MacLean and Desmond Bagley. I doubt whether many school libraries have such books nowadays.

Underworld – Terrance Dicks

This stands for all the Target novelisations which is how my brother and I got into Doctor Who. The local library had a number of hardbacks which we devoured before both building up our own collections of books and video tapes. In fact his collection was built upon those library books which were criminally sold off at 15p each – I was absolutely furious that he was the one who was able to buy them having been the one who started reading them first. In the long run perhaps it was right that he should have them as whilst my collection is no more, his is complete and he went on to present a successful and long-running podcast – the first episode can be found here .

2005 was a significant year for me as it saw the proper return of Doctor Who to TV (let’s ignore the 1996 Paul McGann TV movie), Sheffield Wednesday get promoted, and England win the Ashes for the first time in my memory. Most importantly I got married to my wonderful wife.

Night of Errors, A – Michael Innes

I’ll be re-reading and reviewing this soon. It seems that Innes is quite a Marmite GAD writer but I am enjoying collecting the Ipso/Agora reprints. I love the loopy complexity of them. I don’t remember much about this one except for a great fire and Innes going one better than the GAD staple of twins by introducing triplets.

Ten Sixty Six and All That – W C Sellar and R J Yeatman

On my first reading I found it funny but as I got older and built up more historical knowledge it got hysterically funny. Probably appeals to my schoolboy sense of humour which was tickled by Jennings, Just William, Molesworth, Jeeves & Wooster, and Three Men in a Boat.

 

 

Death in the Tunnel – Miles Burton

This is representative of the wonderful British Library Crime Classics series. I picked up two of the short story collections and then became hooked. I eagerly await the half-yearly announcements of what is coming up next.

Olaf the Glorious – Robert Leighton

A book borrowed, and eventually given to me, from my Nannie (my Dad’s mum, you understand – despite the name of my school above we never had paid staff). A cracking tale of derring do as the orphaned Olaf is plucked from obscurity to become, after a series of adventures and battles, the rightful King of Norway. From her I also borrowed the fantastic With Lawrence in Arabia before David Lean’s biopic became one of my favourite films and The Seven Pillars of Wisdom became one of the very few books that I was never able to finish. However I never borrowed the intriguingly named The Detective Wore Silk Drawers.

Wooden Horse, The – Eric Williams

I found this in my primary school library and was expecting it to be a tale of the Trojan War. Instead it is the real-life account of a daring escape from a WWII prisoner of war camp where the escapees tunnelled out of the middle of the compound by disguising their activities with a vaulting horse. I became quite a fan of POW books including The Colditz Story and The Great Escape.

Narnia, The Chronicles of – C. S. Lewis

I got these for my seventh birthday and have read them many times. My favourites are The Magician’s Nephew and The Last Battle, actually the last two of the seven to be written. I need to re-read them in the light of Planet Narnia by Michael Ward which reveals the long-suspected theme that underpins the series, namely that each book is based around one of the seven medieval planets which explains, along with many other things, exactly why Father Christmas appears in The Lion, the Witch,and the Wardrobe.

John, The Gospel of

“For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Seriously the best thing I have read or will ever read.

 

 

Outsider, The – Jonathan Wilson

Not Albert Camus’ existentialist classic (although funnily enough he was a goalkeeper) but rather a study of the goalkeeper from the birth of football to the modern day. Of great personal interest because I am, at my own level, a goalkeeper. With the introduction of the back pass rule which lead to today’s sweeper-keepers it can no longer be true but my assumption was, based on my own experience, that you become a goalkeeper because you can’t play football. My commitment to the position paid off because in the playground I was always third pick after each of the regular captains had picked their best mate. Much later on my five aside team, The Dancing Lions, managed our very own Invincibles season!

I love books about football and cricket, especially the latter with its wealth of statistics that go from Bradman’s 99.94 down to “that’s Yorkshire’s highest second innings third wicket partnership against Sussex at Scarborough”.

Hole in the Ground, The – Commander Tom Thompson

A school prize of my Dad’s and representing The Boy’s Own Adventure style of book. After the first few introductory chapters this is non-stop action and there is a genuine feeling of peril as the villains in this book would have no hesitation in shooting the schoolboy heroes dead. Other less violent titles from my parents’ childhoods were New Forest Smugglers, New Forest Vagabond, Our Brother Nick and the Ugly Idol, and a great short story collection Adventure Stories for Boys. In a similar vein I must have read about half of the Biggles books following his adventures across all six continents and two world wars as he battled enemy combatants and criminals.

Night at the Crossroads – Georges Simenon

At the same time as starting to collect the BLCC series I also started collecting Penguin’s new translations of the Inspector Maigret books which are a completely different kettle of fish. Some of them are sort of clued but in most the reader follows Maigret and his team following routine police work to catch their man or woman. Once you have read a few you know what you’re going to get but that is part of their appeal. Maigret manages to retain his basic human decency despite witnessing some appalling sights and in Simenon’s words “understands but judges not”. It seems unlikely that Maigret would really be able to get through seventy five cases given the constant pipe smoking and I’m sure someone could come up with an interesting but very dangerous drinking game based on these books.

Murder in the Mill-Race by E. C. R. Lorac (1952)

This is the fourth Lorac reprint in the British Library Crime Classics series and with a fifth due later in the year will put her joint second with George Bellairs behind only John Bude with six as the most reissued authors in the range.

Dr Raymond Ferens and his wife (or “my wench”) Anne take up a seemingly idyllic rural Devon practice to get out of the city. Ray however has no illusions and agrees with Sherlock Holmes’ assessment that the countryside is no more innocent than the town when he says “whenever you get a group of people living together, whether in town or village, you find the mixed characteristics of humanity – envy, hatred, malice and all uncharitableness mingled with neighbourliness and unselfishness and honest-to-God goodness…if a social statistician could get busy in both, he’d find the same percentages of human virtues and human vices.”

The fly in this particular ointment is Sister Monica, warden of the local children’s home, who the Ferens suspect is not quite the saint that the locals make her out to be. Thus it is no surprise when she turns up drowned in the titular mill-race. When the villagers close ranks and refuse to talk to the policeman from the next village, the Chief Constable is happy to call in Scotland Yard which comes in the form of Lorac’s regular CID officer, Chief Inspector Robert Macdonald.

He conducts a shrewd investigation and can’t be fooled by the country people’s attempts to pull the wool over his eyes. There is nice interplay between him and his subordinate DI Reeves who he trusts implicitly and to whom he gives free reign.

Reading this is a pleasant way to pass the time but nothing out of the ordinary and I probably would not have bought it were I not collecting the whole of the BLCC output. However if you enjoyed the similarly set Fire in the Thatch then I am sure you will like this.

Vintage Mystery Challenge

Fulfils How – Death by drowning”.