The Collins Crime Club Golden Jubilee Collection

In 1980 to celebrate fifty years of its Crime Club, Collins published their Golden Jubilee collection. The twelve books chosen by Julian Symons were taken from those published between 1930-1955 and which were out of print at the time the selection was made. Having just read the first two shown below in this very edition I thought it would be good to look at the whole collection. The numbers in brackets refer to the total number of books by the author that could have been chosen, assuming all were out of print at the time. 

The Maze (1932) by Philip MacDonald (12)

Obelists Fly High (1935) by C. Daly King (6)

The ABC Murders by (1936) by Agatha Christie (38)

The Loss of the Jane Vosper (1936) by Freeman Wills Crofts (7)

Minute for Murder (1947) by Nicholas Blake (11)

No Mask for Murder (1950) by Andrew Garve (8)

Which I Never (1950) L. A. G. Strong (4)

Even in the Best Families (1951) by Rex Stout (26)

An Afternoon to Kill (1953) by Shelley Smith (8)

The Odd Flamingo (1954) by Nina Bawden (1)

Spinsters in Jeopardy (1954) by Ngaio Marsh (11)

Enough to Kill a Horse (1955) by Elizabeth Ferrars (10)

Firstly, some thoughts on the two that I’ve just read:

MacDonald’s book has the subtitle “An Exercise in Detection” and he explains in the introduction that this is because the reader is presented exactly the same information as his sleuth, Anthony Gethryn, which is the transcripts of the coroner’s inquest, and so they should be able to solve the case just as well as Gethryn does. 

The book is successful in what it sets out to do, and even with pure dialogue MacDonald manages to differentiate his characters and give them personality but because it lacks the investigative phase involving theory and counter-theory it is not the most interesting of mysteries.

“Obelists Fly High” begins with an Epilogue and ends with a Prologue (although neither are exactly that – Philip MacDonald’s “Rynox” uses this device in a much stricter sense) and is cleverer than it seems and this compensates for a dull section compiling a timetable of movements and a good deal of psychological bunkum.

I can understand why Symons selected these two titles, but I disagree with some of his choices.

I would definitely keep “The ABC Murders” – it’s unbelievable that one of my favourite Christie’s was out of print. Say what you like about the estate – and some of us do – but they have done a great job of keeping all of her work easily available.

“The Loss of the Jane Vosper” is not one of the better Inspector French mysteries in my view and with the excellent “Mystery on Southampton Water” unavailable as Crofts switched to Hodder & Stoughton for 1933-34 and so I’m selecting:

Crime at Guildford (1935)

Whilst not as celebrated as “The Beast Must Die”, “Minute for Murder” is a good poisoning mystery set in a WWII civil service ministry and I’m happy with that choice.

I haven’t read “No Mask for Murder” but from the same author I have enjoyed:

Murder in Moscow (1951)

I’m unfamiliar with L. A. G. Strong but I would like to include something by John Rhode/Miles Burton:

Death in the Tunnel (1936)

“Even in the Best Families” is the third book in the “Zeck” trilogy and is an odd choice on that basis so I’d swap it for the first case of Nero Wolfe that I read:

Some Buried Caesar (1939)

I haven’t read anything by Shelley Smith or Nina Bawden but Anthony Gilbert was a prolific club writer, as was E. C. R. Lorac so I would include:

Death Knocks Three Times (1949)


Fire in the Thatch (1946)

There are definitely better Ngaio Marsh books than “Spinsters in Jeopardy” and whilst my favourite “The Nursing Home Murder” is unavailable for selection as the Club only started to publish her in 1939 I would replace it with:

Swing, Brother, Swing (1949)

I have read one Elizabeth Ferrars book, but one author who definitely needs to be chosen is Rupert Penny:

Sealed Room Murder (1941)

That’s my deadly dozen, what’s yours?



This post couldn’t have been written without significant reference to John Curran’s beautiful guide to the 2,000+ books issued by the Club.

Turning Japanese #16: Murder in the Red Chamber (2004) by Taku Ashibe (translated by Tyran Grillo)

Yuan-Chun, recently made Principal Consort and Chief Secretary of the Phoenix Palace by His Imperial Majesty, has been granted permission for a brief trip home to see her family. To mark the occasion, the Jias have built the beautiful Prospect Garden. When she leaves, Yuan-Chun gives orders that her female cousins and brother, Bao-yu, should live there with each being granted their own residence. However what was intended to be an earthly paradise soon becomes a living hell when the women start to be killed one by one.

The setting of this mystery is taken from the eighteenth century Chinese epic “The Dream of the Red Chamber” (or “The Story of the Stone”) by Cao Xueqin and some knowledge of this work may have been of value – for example the Wikipedia article explains that in the English translation by David Hawkes, he deliberately kept the names of the main characters in pinyin, translated the names of servants into English, the names of Daoists and Buddhists into Latin, and the names of actors and actresses into French. This convention was used by Grillo for his translation of this mystery.

The solution is really quite interesting and says something quite important to today’s society and the final image is haunting.

Unfortunately it is an absolute slog to get there. The Chinese surname-first name convention is used which is hard when most of the characters are Jia-this and Jia-that. The first chapter opens with a clumsy info dump of who everyone is in the Jia family is but this can be seen from the detailed family tree. There are so many characters but few have any depth. There is no clear sense of when certain events have occurred in relation to each other. There are multiple murders but insufficient time is given to each and no real detection is done – the sleuth simply presents his conclusions of what may have happened without any real build-up or considerations of the alternatives.

One point of interest to me was that among the literature of crime presented to Bao-yu by Tealeaf were the cases of Judge Di Renjie, a real-life figure who was the inspiration for Robert van Gulik’s “Judge Dee” series of books. Having translated the eighteenth century “Di Gong An” as “Celebrated Cases of Judge Dee”, van Gulik wrote his own mysteries in the Chinese style, normally involving three initially separate cases which would end up being connected.

Click here for more reviews of Japanese mystery fiction.

Prague Fatale (2011) by Philip Kerr

My ongoing quest to read a case of each of the 100 Greatest Literary Detectives intersected neatly with JJ’s publication of 100 Books for a Locked Room Library and I happened upon a copy of this book that very afternoon.

Bernie Gunther is back in Berlin, working once more for the Kripo, but is equivocal about his work:

“Berliners were still killing each other, although there wasn’t a moment passed when I didn’t think it risible that I should continue to believe that this mattered very much, knowing what I now knew about what was happening in the East… Still I went through the motions of being a proper detective, although it often felt like I was trying to put out a fire in an ashtray when, down the road, a whole city was the scene of a major conflagration.”

He is investigating the murder of a Dutch railway worker when the Gestapo ask him to look at another dead body, who just happens to be someone that he was chasing the previous night having interrupted an attempted rape. He becomes involved with the woman he rescued, Arianne Tauber, and finds that the two deaths are connected.

His investigations are curtailed when Reinhard Heydrich, with whom he has had previous dealings, orders him to his country residence just outside Prague so that he can become his bodyguard and investigate a recent attempt on his life. Heydrich values Bernie because he is not a member of the Nazi party:

“We don’t have any good detectives left in the SD or in the Gestapo. Within the kind of system that we operate we have all sorts of people; ambitious lawyers, sadistic policemen, brown-nosing civil servants, all, I dare say, good Party men, too; sometimes we even call them detectives or inspectors and ask them to investigate a case; but I tell you they can’t do it. To be a proper detective is beyond their competence. They can’t do it because they won’t stick their noses in where they’re not wanted. They can’t do it because they’re afraid of asking questions they’re not supposed to ask. And even if they did ask those questions, they’d get scared because they wouldn’t like the answers. It would offend their sense of Party loyalty.”

A murder is soon committed (not of Heydrich, as the first chapter, and history, tell us that his end is very different) and whilst Bernie does solve the how of the locked room murder and identifies the killer (with the method he has already revealed to the reader and yet it completely passed me by) but obtaining justice may not be so easy.

This is one of the best books that I have read specifically for this challenge. The murder method is unoriginal but the motive is devilishly brilliant. Bernie Gunther is a compromised character, but makes the reader face the uncomfortable questions of what orders they may have obeyed if their life was threatened and if ultimately someone else would have obeyed those orders anyway. He is a character whom I am sure I will return to.

For further information on Heydrich I can recommend Laurence Binet’s “HHhH” and the film “Operation Anthropoid”.