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review 2019-01-04 17:19
"Silent Night - Christmas Mysteries" edited by Martin Edwards
Silent Nights: Christmas Mysteries - Various Authors,Martin Edwards

I used this collection of thirteen Christmas-themed Golden Age detective short stories as a sampler to help me decide which writers to read in 2019.

 

I found two authors I want to read more of. Most of the rest were entertaining but not enticing.

 

The stories I enjoyed most were both by women.

 

"The Case Is Altered" by Majory Allinghamwas my first experience of an Albert Campion story. The plot was satisfying without getting too fantastical.

 

The strength of the story came from how vividly and convincingly Allingham describes a luxurious Country House Christmas Party. I was disarmed by the regretful reluctance that Campion brings to the business of solving mysteries. It's a pleasant change from the egocentric do-you-see-how-clever-I've-been? behaviours of other amateur detectives of the period. I'll be giving the first Campion book, "The Crime At Black Dudley"a try.

 

"Waxworks" by Ethel Lina White, the story of a young reporter who hides herself away in a waxworks to get a story about whether it's haunted, worked for me because it felt fresh and energetic and still managed to generate moments of menace. The gender politics in the story are awful but I doubt that much is different today except for a litigation-reducing veneer of we-treat-our-women-well words. I'm going to try "The Wheel Spins" which Hitchcock made into "The Lady Vanishes".

 

"Cambric Tea" by Marjorie Bowen showed great skill in creating an atmosphere of menace and paranoia that was quite disturbing, even if the thinly drawn characters were a little unlikely.

 

"The Chinese Apple" by Marjorie Bowen writing as Joseph Shearing was probably the darkest story in the book. The two women in this story, both strong, neither attracted by duty, each determined to take the steps needed to distance themselves from their unpleasant childhoods, are brilliantly drawn and disturbingly credible.  I'd love to read more of Marjorie Bowen writing in this way but none of the books seem to be in print.

 

Of all the stories written by women in this collection, Dorothy L Sayers' "The Necklace Of Pearls" made the least impression on me. I found it a bit thin. Peter Wimsey struck me as bloodless and the humour, while it did make me smile, all stemmed from making fun of people's weaknesses. It didn't leave me wanting to find a Wimsey book.

 

On the whole, the stories by men were weaker than the stories by women.

 

"The Name On The Window" by Edmund Crispinis not so much a story as a logic teaser with just enough story wrapped around it to get the punchline delivered.

 

"Stuffing" by Edgar Wallace, I skimmed and then skipped. He's a writer who I have never enjoyed. I find him false. He is glossy and self-assured and has some smart ideas but I don't believe him. I see too much disdain for his own characters beneath the shiny veneer of his prose. So, I skipped him. Which doesn't mean you should. Although I would if I were you.

 

"A Problem In White" by Nicholas Whiteis a board game with archetypes rather than people and answers on a cheat sheet at the end of the book rather than in a formal denouement. This is either innovative, pre-figuring interactive media or it's the height of laziness.

 

"The Absconding Treasurer" by J. Jefferson Farjeonis competent but bloodless, uses humour that rather looks down on country folk and a detective who is a plot device rather than a person.

 

I had high hopes of G. K. Chesterton's Father Brown story "The Flying Stars"but after several pages of waffling text stuffed with clichéd characters that the author seemed to hold in contempt, I no longer cared what happened to the jewels or any of the people in the story, so I abandoned it.

 

"Parlour Tricks" by Ralph Plummer is an amuse-bouche, well described by its title. A small conceit worked into a small parcel of entertainment. Nothing memorable but nothing to object to either.

 

"A Happy Solution" by Raymund Allen I skipped as it seems to have been written for chess players and so was beyond me.

 

"Beef For Christmas" by Leo Bruce raises the game a bit with a clever puzzle and a playful twist on the Holmes/Watson dynamic by having Beef, the detective, as blunt and laconic. The crime itself requires such suspension of disbelief that it would fit well in a pantomime.

 

"The Unknown Murderer" by H. C. Bailey was a welcome surprise. His Dr Fortune character rather charmed me for being not in the least bit charming. I liked his "natural man" stance and his preference for being really quite good at many things but not truly expert in anything, except perhaps seeing people clearly and acting on what he sees.

 

Standing head and shoulders over the work of the other male authors is Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Blue Carbuncle". It's a light piece of Christmas whimsey, told in an unremarkable linear manner. What sets it apart is the confident economy of the writing and the skilful presentation of Sherlock Holmes' ravenous curiosity and unassailable self-esteem. This story is as much a gem as the object it revolves around.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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review 2018-12-30 18:32
Seven Dead
Seven Dead (British Library Crime Classics) - Martin Edwards,Eleanor Farjeon

This is not Ted Lyte’s story. He merely had the excessive misfortune to come into it, and to remain in it longer than he wanted. Had he adopted Cardinal Wolsey’s advice and flung away ambition, continuing to limit his illegal acts to the petty pilfering and pickpocketing at which he was fairly expert, he would have spared himself on this historic Saturday morning the most horrible moment of his life. The moment was so horrible that it deprived him temporarily of his senses. But he was not a prophet; all he could predict of the future was the next instant, and that often wrongly; and the open gate, with the glimpse beyond of the shuttered window, tempted him.

Oh I wish we had more of J. Jefferson Farjeon's books widely available to us, but alas I only have one more of his books to look forward to (The Z Murders) - unless I want to give the Ben, the Tramp series another shot.  

 

Seven Dead was a curious book. It didn't start out like the usual Golden Age mystery. There was little that was twee about the start of the book (and even less about the ending!), we didn't get to meet any characters that we can fully trust (apart from the police), we get snippets of facts that seem to be pieces of a horrible puzzle, but each turn of event just put a question mark on the suppositions made in the previous chapter. 

 

The only guide through all this is Detective Inspector Kendall, whose no-nonsense approach is lauded in mockery.

“You mentioned your name. There are plenty of Kendalls in the world, but I remember one who did pretty good work recently at Bragley Court, in the case of the Thirteen Guests. What I liked about him was that he didn’t play the violin, or have a wooden leg, or anything of that sort. He just got on with it.”

 

Fear not: Kendall gives as good as he gets.

 

So, there is a fun undertone to the story, some flippancy, some snark, but this really is only light relief from the tense atmosphere that Farjeons sets up for us - especially whenever we are near the scene of the crime, the ironically-named Haven House:

“Hey! What’s that?” jerked the sergeant. Something was happening in the house. As they darted towards it, an unearthly noise issued from the hall, and the sergeant admitted afterwards that it “fair went up his spine.” The sound grew venomously. It was like a hive of bees that had gone mad. There seemed no rhyme or reason in it, unless it had been designed as a macabre overture to what was to follow.

 

The light touch, the mockery, and the jokes are still not enough to lift the story into the realms of a cozy mystery. The underlying plot - even tho we do not find out until the end what actually happened - is entirely sinister and just plain horrible. 

"There’s some mighty queer story behind all this, and maybe, when we’ve unearthed it—as we’re going to—suicide will fit the climax. But I’m not going to accept that theory until it’s explained to me how

they got into the house, why they nailed up the shutters, why they stuffed two weeks’ papers up the chimney, how they destroyed themselves—that’s your job, doctor, and it’s going to mean Westminster Abbey or professional extinction for you!—who used the revolver, why he or she shot a picture in another room, where the Fenners are, why they left in a hurry, and how the devil—here’s another little tit-bit I’ve just had from the station, Mr. Hazeldean—how the devil these seven people, before settling down to their final job, locked themselves in the drawing-room with the key on the outside

(spoiler show)

.”

Farjeon wasn't writing in the horror genre but there was something about the three books that I have read by him that makes me think he could have been at home in it. The atmosphere of his settings, and the suspense in his plots are well-crafted and reminded me of some of the Gothic tales written by late Victorian authors. I'd also wager that he may have been influenced by the writing of Arthur Conan Doyle, not just the Holmes stories, though I was somewhat reminded of them when reading the conclusion of Seven Dead (not a spoiler or a clue, btw.).

 

Btw, this story also had another one of Farjeon's delightful romances in it, which is improved only by the fact that I couldn't figure out until the end if any of the characters were trustworthy:

“Good-evening, Miss Fenner.”

She almost dropped her book. The brown eyes were on his again, bright with both astonishment and alarm. He discovered within himself an intense desire to dispel the latter, and dreaded the moment ahead when he would have to introduce a far greater alarm than any she could now be feeling.

“I’m quite harmless,” he smiled.

“Who are you?” she asked. “I don’t know you. Do I?”

“No.”

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review 2018-12-30 07:17
Portrait of a Murderer
Portrait of a Murderer (British Library Crime Classics) - Anne Meredith,Martin Edwards

Portrait of a Murderer isn´t a about who has done the murder. It´s more about why the murderer the murderer has done the crime and if he is capable of getting away with the deed he has done. 

 

To tell the truth, I was about to quit this book after 50 pages or so, because the very beginning of the book, in which numerous characters and their respective problems get introduced, was a chore to get through. But then the story picks up and I couldn´t put it down after that. I just had to know if the murderer is able to pull of it and the insight Anne Meredith gives into her characters is incredibly interesting. This is definitely one of the most unique mysteries I have ever read.

 

I´ve read this for the 24 tasks as a book that is set on Christmas.

 

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text 2018-12-29 23:29
Reading progress update: I've read 92 out of 237 pages.
Seven Dead (British Library Crime Classics) - Martin Edwards,Eleanor Farjeon

This is one creepy and delicious book, more creepy, tho. It's like taking all of your expectations of a twee Golden Age cozy mystery and then turning it very, very dark. 

 

There is no gore in this. At least, there hasn't been so far - if you don't count the "discovery" at the oh-so-ironically-named Haven House, which may as well be called Hill House. There's no relation to the plot of Jackson's story of course, but the atmosphere is as tense whenever Farjeon takes us near that building.

 

And he does it well, even coming back to the house at the time of ... 

Well, ... find out for yourselves.

 

But to make up for this, we get a charming young bloke, who's just made a bad error in dealing with a woman whose...

"large bosom almost filled the width of the doorway, and her high complexion and too-gold hair loomed unnaturally, almost garishly, in the dimness. The air became heavily scented."

 

LoL.

 

Tom, that's what you get for following Mrs. Danvers into an attic room, you silly lamb.

 

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text 2018-12-29 01:38
Reading progress update: I've read 34 out of 237 pages.
Seven Dead (British Library Crime Classics) - Martin Edwards,Eleanor Farjeon

I had to take a break from Seven Dead to erase the recent experience of watching the latest adaptation of The ABC Murders by revisiting my favourite scenes of the original book ... and David Suchet adaptation. 

 

Now back to DI Kendall and the creepy Haven House. By the way, this story is set after Thirteen Guests. There is a conversation that makes reference to the previous story.

 

Also, I think I have a hunch about the cause of death.

One cannot be a fan of the Golden Age mystery genre and not have a hunch about the cause of death. ;)

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