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text 2018-01-14 23:15
Detection Club Bingo: My Progress So Far
The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books - Martin Edwards
The Golden Age of Murder - Martin Edwards
Murder of a Lady (British Library Crime Classics) - Anthony Wynne
The Tales of Max Carrados - Ernest Bramah,Stephen Fry
Pietr Le Letton - Georges Simenon
Lonely Magdalen: A Murder Story - Henry Wade
Margery Allingham Omnibus: Includes Sweet Danger, The Case of the Late Pig, The Tiger in the Smoke - Margery Allingham

 

1. A New Era Dawns: Ernest Bramah - The Tales of Max Carrados

2. The Birth of the Golden Age
3. The Great Detectives:
Margery Allingham - The Crime at Black Dudley, Mystery Mile, Look to the Lady, Police at the Funeral, Sweet Danger, Death of a Ghost, Flowers for the Judge, The Case of the Late Pig, Dancers in Mourning, The Fashion in Shrouds, Traitor's Purse, and The Tiger in the Smoke
4. 'Play Up! Play Up! and Play the Game!'
5. Miraculous Murders:
Anthony Wynne - Murder of a Lady
6. Serpents in Eden
7. Murder at the Manor:
Ethel Lina White - The Spiral Staircase (aka Some Must Watch)
8. Capital Crimes
9. Resorting to Murder
10. Making Fun of Murder
11. Education, Education, Education
12. Playing Politics
13. Scientific Enquiries
14. The Long Arm of the Law:
Henry Wade - Lonely Magdalen
15. The Justice Game
16. Multiplying Murders
17. The Psychology of Crime
18. Inverted Mysteries
19. The Ironists
20. Fiction from Fact
21. Singletons
22. Across the Atlantic
23. Cosmopolitan Crimes: Georges Simenon - Pietr le Letton (Pietr the Latvian)
24. The Way Ahead

 

Free Square / Eric the Skull: Martin Edwards - The Golden Age of Murder

 

The book that started it all:

Martin Edwards - The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books

 

The Detection Club Reading Lists:
The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books: The "100 Books" Presented
The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books: Other Books Mentioned, Chapters 1-5

The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books: Other Books Mentioned, Chapters 6 & 7
The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books: Other Books Mentioned, Chapters 8-10
The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books: Other Books Mentioned, Chapters 11-15
The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books: Other Books Mentioned, Chapters 16-20
The story of Classic Crime in 100 Books: Other Books Mentioned, Chapters 21-24

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review 2018-01-14 22:42
Well, I can see the appeal to movie directors ...
The Lady Vanishes & the Spiral Staircase (Wordsworth Classics) - Ethel Lina White,Keith Carabine
The Lady Vanishes - Ethel Lina White
Some Must Watch - Ethel Lina White

... but in written form, this isn't really my cup of tea.  Which isn't necessarily the fault of White's writing is such -- she has a fine eye (and ear) for characterization and language -- but rather, of her chosen topic.  I've never been much of a fan of "women in peril" stories; they tend to be replete with fevered agitation and hyperbole, and however understandable the protagonists' fear and excitement may be in a given situation, the situation as such is almost invariably so unrealistic as to be the literary equivalent of "B movie" material.

 

That being said, Hitchcock definitely milked The Lady Vanishes (which was originally published as The Wheel Spins) for all it was worth and then some -- in fact, this is one of the rare examples where I decidedly prefer the movie over the book: not only because Hitch gave the story a spin that isn't present in the literary original at all (even if that doesn't make the story one iota more realistic -- it's just plainly more fun), but chiefly, because Michael Redgrave's version of Iris's (the heroine's) knight in shining armour is decidedly more likeable than the character from the book, who -- even though he's meant to be likeable -- to me just comes across as one hugely condescending a$$hole, hardly any better than the professor in whose company he travels.  Similarly, Iris herself is more likeable as portrayed by Margaret Lockwood in the movie: whereas there, I am genuinely sympathetic to her strange plight, the book mostly elicited my rage at her fellow passengers' reactions -- however not on Iris's behalf specifically but on behalf of womanhood generally, against a society that automatically disbelieved and put down as hallucinations and figments of an overactive imagination any woman's assertions that weren't supported -- or that were even directly contradicted -- by other witnesses, especially men and / or figures of authority.  (In fact, if I hadn't read Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper, biographical background information included, I'd have dismissed the whole premise of The Lady Vanishes as wildly improbable.  Sadly, at the time of its writing, it wasn't.)

 

The Spiral Staircase (originally published as Some Must Watch) combines a remote country house setting on the Welsh border with a serial killer story; and if the isolation of the house and the prowling maniac weren't enough in and of themselves, the whole action takes place over the course of somewhat less than 12 hours, mostly after nightfall.  I haven't seen any of the several movie adaptations of this story, but I can see how a clever director would be able to ratchet up the tension quite skillfully here, what with the dwindling down of effective defenses against the maniac and a cast of fairly outlandish (and unlikeable) characters inside the house -- if you buy into the premonition that this house is where the serial killer is headed next, and that he is after the book's heroine, to begin with.

 

I liked The Spiral Staircase a bit better than The Lady Vanishes -- 3 1/2 vs. 2 1/2 stars, respectively, which averages out to 3 stars for both together.

 

The Spiral Staircase (under its original title Some Must Watch) is mentioned as an example of a country house mystery in Martin Edwards's The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books, so I'll be counting that towards the corresponding square of my Detection Club bingo card, and both books, in addition, also towards the Women Writers Bingo.

 

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review 2018-01-10 21:00
Mr. Campion of 17A Bottle Street, Piccadilly, London
The Tiger in the Smoke - Margery Allingham,David Thorpe
The Fashion in Shrouds - Margery Allingham,Francis Matthews
Flowers for the Judge - Margery Allingham
Sweet Danger - Margery Allingham
Mystery Mile - Margery Allingham
Dancers in Mourning (Albert Campion Mystery #8) - Margery Allingham
Police at the Funeral - Margery Allingham
Death of a Ghost - Margery Allingham
The Case of the Late Pig - Margery Allingham
Look to the Lady - Margery Allingham

I started the new year with a minor Allingham binge and, having now read a fair number of her Campion mysteries (12, i.e. 2/3 of the 18 novels that she herself completed), I think I can safely say that while I won't ever like this series as much as I do those of Christie, Sayers, and Marsh, when Allingham is good, she is really good and can easily measure up to the other Golden Age "Queens of Crime."

 

Campion starts out as a fairly thinly-drawn cipher in The Crime at Black Dudley, but that is due to the fact that Allingham wasn't initially intending to make him her main detective: he was her publisher's preference over the character that Allingham herself had had in mind as the lead.  So, in the following novels, she willy-nilly had to put some more flesh onto his hitherto meager bones, and pronto.  Unfortunately, she didn't do likewise for the plots (nor for her books' other characters), which in books 2 and 3 (Mystery Mile and Look to the Lady) remain variations on the same theme -- a treasure hunt with murder interlude, complete with an international crime syndicate led by a master criminal, various abduction schemes, and supporting characters so unrealistic and twodimensionally cardboard they'd go up in flames if you only held a lighter vaguely in their direction. 

 

That said, in book 2 (Mystery Mile) already Allingham did come up with one of the greatest sidekicks ever in the history of mystery writing -- Campion's "gentleman's gentleman" Maggersfontein Lugg, who (being an ex-burglar) is anything but gentlemanlike -- and even by the time she wrote this book, she had already made great strides towards finding her style, and she'd definitely also learned a thing or two about tightening up a meandering plot.

 

The first one of her books that I really enjoyed (or had, on an earlier occasion, even though I didn't revisit it for this particular exercise) is book 4, Police at the Funeral: There still is a bit too much of a "woman in distress" element for my liking at the very beginning of this book, but essentially it's a classic country house mystery with a clever plot and a cast of unusual characters that are definitely showing signs of being more rounded than their confrères of the earlier novels -- the whole thing could easily give Agatha Christie a run for her money (even though the solution won't surprise anyone who knows their Conan Doyle and Christie tolerably well).

 

With book 5, Sweet Danger, we're back, alas, to the "treasure hunt with murder interlude and crime syndicate led by a master criminal" plot phenomenon, this time even with one of the Golden Age's most overused tropes thrown in (a tiny fictitious principality in the Balkans as the origin of the unsavory doings on British soil), all of which by this point had me thorougly gritting my teeth.  What elevates this book (somewhat) above its earlier predecessors, however, are its characters; first and foremost, then-17-year-old Lady Amanda Fitton, who even at that age is completely Campion's equal and manages to bowl him over completely in no time at all.  (She'd return in several subsequent novels and eventually end up as his wife; not without first having taken up a careers as a mechanic engineer.)

 

Book 6, Death of a Ghost, is based on an ingenious idea, set in the arts world, featuring a range of fairly over the top (although not necessarily always likeable) characters and, though Campion tumbles to "whodunnit" fairly early on, the "howdunit" and "whydunit" are far less clear.  One of my favorite installments from the bunch that I've read so far (albeit speaking from memory -- I haven't revisited this one recently, either ... I probably should).

 

Book 7, Flowers for the Judge, begins like a classic Golden Age locked room mystery set in the world of publishing: halfway into the story it becomes clear we're on a sort of treasure hunt yet again (or rather, on the hunt for a manuscript that may or may not exist and provide a vital clue to the murder), but it's clear here that the manuscript is merely a tool and Allingham's chief interest is in the characters -- one in particular --, so I'm willing to forgive Allingham for (semi-)falling back on her favorite ploy here.  (Also, I really like the ending, which provides a twist that rather made me smile, and which for a Golden Age mystery is anything but P.C.)

 

Book 8, The Case of the Late Pig, is an oddity in that it's told from Campion's point of view -- what with its distinctly outlandish plotline and the exchanges between Campion and Lugg it reads like Allingham's take on Jeeves and Wooster (though it's less clear who is supposed to be who), with another locked room puzzle thrown in for good measure and, like in Death of a Ghost, some monkey business associated with a (not-so) dear departed.  I rather liked its twists when I first read it; I've only ever revisited it on screen since, though, where the different narrative point of view isn't as apparent as in print.  Probably I should reread it at some point to see whether the first person narrative voice bothers me more now that I've read more books of the series overall.

 

Book 9, Dancers in Mourning, is Allingham's visit to classic Ngaio Marsh territory -- the world of the London stage --, combined once more with a country house setting.  At this point Allingham is very assured in creating interesting characters and a plot that holds together (also, this book is firmly within established Golden Age traditions), all of which makes for a rather enjoyable read. -- Side note: This is also the last book in which Campion is shown as unlucky in love with one of the story's female characters; in this particular instance, a married woman, which makes for quite a bit more depth than his previous forays into the territory of romance, mostly with the sisters and daughters of his friends and / or clients.

 

Book 10, The Fashion in Shrouds, sees Campion reunited -- of sorts -- with Amanda Fitton, who is now working as an engineer: what starts as a (purported) ploy of Amanda's designed to disentagnle her employer from the married star actress he has fallen in love with ends up with Campion and Amanda taking the first steps towards a bona fide union.  Topically, this is Allingham's take on career women; besides Amanda and the aforementioned vampish actress, the third woman on whom the story focuses is is Campion's sister Valerie, co-owner and chief designer of a fashion house.  In approach and execution, this novel is nowhere near as accomplished as Dorothy L. Sayers's Harriet Vane novels (particularly Gaudy Night, which was published three years before The Fashion in Shrouds) -- and the only truly independent and self-assured female character is Amanda, as well as Campion and Valerie's "Tante Marthe", the co-owner of the fashion house -- but I suppose given its publication date, it's worth mentioning that Allingham is placing career women center stage in a (mostly) favorable light at all.

 

Book 11, Traitor's Purse, to me is a hot mess; a fallback of the worst kind into Allingham's early "treasure hunt with assorted villainy" plotlines, replete with incomprehensible decisions on Campion's part that not even a head injury can satisfactorily explain away (in fact, in light of that head injury they're even more inexplicable), cipher characters, and a thoroughly implausible plot.  Seems Allingham, like Christie, got caught up in the "5th column" / "enemy at home" noise echoing through Britain (like through most, if not all European countries) in WWII, when this book was published; and again like Christie, she just simply didn't know enough about the world of espionage to pull it off convincingly.

 

Books 12 and 13 (Coroner's Pidgin and More Work for the Undertaker) are, as yet, on my TBR -- I don't know when I'll get around to them, but after this recent little binge, I doubt it will be anytime soon.

 

Which finally brings us to Book 14, The Tiger in the Smoke; in terms of characterization and atmosphere undoubtedly one of Allingham's strongest -- at least of the first 14 Campion novels.  Yet again we find about halfway through the book that we are on a treasure hunt, but for once even the villains -- and we know who they are almost from the get-go -- are fully rounded characters with an inner life and both a past and a present (albeit not much of a future if it's down to Campion and the police).  Campion's Scotland Yard sidekick of the earlier books, Stanislaus Oates, has climbed the career ladder all the way to the top, so the day to day police work is now being done by a very sympathetically drawn and, again, fully rounded new character, D.C.I. Charles Luke (side note: like Amanda's path from teenager to career woman to (now) Campion's wife and equal opportunity "lieutenant", another instance showing that unlike Christie, Allingham allowed her characters to age in real time).  And towards the end of the book, just before the final resolution, we even get a finely-drawn downright Dostoevskyan exchange between a priest and the worst of the bad guys that a younger Allingham might have given her eye teeth to write, but would not have been able to pull off anywhere near as accomplished. What's not to like?!

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review 2017-12-31 16:50
16 Tasks of the Festive Season: Square 3 - Armistice Day / Veterans' Day: Murder at Castle Cloon
Death in December - Gordon Griffin,Victor Gunn

This novella by Victor Gunn (one of several pseudonyms of Edwy Searles Brooks) also forms the centerpiece of the second British Library Christmas mystery short fiction anthologies edited by Martin Edwards that I read this month (Crimson Snow), but I listened to it in the audio version narrated by Gordon Griffin, who is fast becoming one of my favorite narrators of classic / Golden Age British mysteries.

 

The story concerns a Christmas visit to Cloon Castle in Derbyshire, the home of Johnny Lister, sergeant to Chief Inspector Bill "Ironsides" Cromwell, Gunn's gruffly iconic series detective.  And the two policemen haven't even arrived ante portas yet when they're running into their first mysterious appearance: a figure that seems to be walking in the snow at some distance; without, however, leaving so much as a single footprint.  When they are assembled around the fireplace after dinner with the other guests, the afternoon's strange encounter is duly followed by the legend of the castle ghost and by a visit to the "ghost chamber", but things take a serious turn when one of the guests engages to spend the night in the "ghost chamber" to disprove the legend once and for all, only to be found injured and of obviously disturbed mind hours later -- and when not long thereafter, a stranger's corpse is found in one of the graves in the family crypt abutting the "ghost chamber."  The solution, when ultimately revealed by "Ironsides", is very much down to earth and rather ugly, but there's plenty of derring-do to be had along the way, including a rather fiendish attempt on the Chief Inspector's life and much fine detection work (and enjoyable writing).

 

Since Johnny Lister's father, the host of this story's countryside Christmas gathering, is a retired general who has duly earned himself a DSO (I'm assuming in WWI -- the story was first published in the early 1940s, but it sounds like the general's retirement isn't a recent one, and retiring in the midst of WWII doesn't sound likely to begin with), I'm using this as my Veterans' Day / Armistice Day read in the context of the 16 Festive Tasks.

 

 

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review 2017-12-31 16:06
A Cornucopia of Holiday Stories
Murder On Christmas Eve: Classic Mysteries for the Festive Season - Ellis Peters,Margery Allingham,Various Authors,Ian Rankin,Val McDermid

Turns out I already knew five of the ten stories in this anthology:

 

 

Ellis Peters's The Trinity Cat

Julian Symons's The Santa Claus Club

Ian Rankin's No Sanity Clause

G.K. Chesterton's The Dagger With Wings

and Marjorie Bowen's Cambric Tea.

 

So I skipped those (though I do really like the stories by Ellis Peters, Julian Symons and Ian Rankin -- care somewhat less for the other two, though) and just read the remaining five entries:

 

Michael Innes: The Four Seasons

John Dickson Carr: The Footprint in the Sky

Val McDermid: A Wife in a Million

Lawrence Block: As Dark as Christmas Gets

and Marjorie Allingham: On Christmas Day in the Morning

 

Of these, far and away my favorites were the stories by Michael Innes and Lawrence Block (Marjorie Allingham's On Christmas Day in the Morning came somewhat close because of its bittersweet solution): Innes's The Four Seasons is a variation on the country house mystery set in the Fen Country and centering on a painting -- actually, it's a country house story within a country house story, because the actual story is being told by a guest at a country house holiday party in turn --; and Block's As Dark as Christmas Gets is an extremely cleverly conceived hommage to Rex Stout's Nero Wolfe mysteries, in everything from tone to characters, setting, plot, book title name checking, and even solution.

 

Since this book has a(n, umm, mostly) black and white cover, for 16 Festive Tasks purposes I'll be using it as my read for All Saints' Day.

 

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