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text 2018-03-06 10:59
Reading progress update: I've read 180 out of 336 pages.
The Hog's Back Mystery - Freeman Wills Crofts

Hmmm.  I'm beginning to understand why Tigus was wondering whether Crofts's insistence on playing fair with the reader is going to the disadvantage of Inspector French, in not making him draw conclusions and open up lines of investigation that would occur to a reader at this point.


Reading this for the Detection Club Bingo, and will also be posting a guess on its basis in the KYD green round (not saying yet for which card, though).

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text 2018-02-28 17:55
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
The Franchise Affair - Josephine Tey
Family Matters (British Library Crime Classics) - Anthony Rolls
Death on the Cherwell - Mavis Doriel Hay


First bingo (bottom row).  Not that it greatly matters, but still. :D  Progress!


The Squares / Chapters:

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

Emmuska Orczy - The Old Man in the Corner

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;

Anthony Berkeley - The Poisoned Chocolates Case

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:
Mavis Doriel Hay - Death on the Cherwell
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:
Anthony Rolls - Family Matters
20. Fiction from Fact: Josephine Tey - The Franchise Affair

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 SPOILER ALERT! 2018-02-28 17:28
Enid Blyton in Oxford
Death on the Cherwell - Mavis Doriel Hay
Death on the Cherwell - Mavis Doriel Hay

Meh.  I think if the protagonists of this mystery had been some 3 or 5 years younger, and if I'd read this in my teens or preteens, I'd have loved it -- this is exactly the sort of book I used to swallow way back when (Enid Blyton's O'Sullivan Twins / St. Clare's and Famous Five series, The Three Investigators, the odd Nancy Drew); except that this book is set among Oxford college undergraduates.  And therein, to a large extent, lies the problem:  What would have been precocious in a high school student and a teenager comes across as simply silly and unreasonable in a college student, however much the author may preface her book with the warning that "[u]ndergraduates, especially those in their first year, are not, of course, quite sane or quite adult".  And I, in turn, am no longer the heroines' own age (and aspiring to their daring and their spirit of adventure), but several decades older, and able to look back on my own university years secure and jaded in the knowledge that even as a first year I'd likely have scorned the behavior of these girls -- and the mere attempt to solve a crime that is quite obviously in a very capable police inspector's hands anyway -- as supremely unreasonable; indeed, as risible. 


It certainly also doesn't help that Dorothy L. Sayers, in my absolute favorite among her Lord Peter Wimsey / Harriet Vane mysteries -- Gaudy Night, which coincidentally was published the same year as this book -- set the standard, once and for all, for how you "do" a mystery in a university setting; moreover, a mystery set, like this book, in an all-female college.  And yes, Sayers's book does include undergraduates, both male (from other Oxford colleges) and female.  And male and female alike, they do exhibit their share of silly behavior.  But they're nevertheless decidedly more rounded, multi-dimensional and capable of rational behavior and foresight than Hay's undergraduates are here.


So, I am definitely not the right audience for this book.  More than that, though, unlike Hay's Santa Klaus Murder, which I rather liked, this novel simply lacks depth; its plot is as shallow as its characters, half the clues don't seem to go anywhere in particular (even in the final reveal), and clichés abound -- including a number of jarringly racist clichés.  This is a pity particularly in light of the fact that Hay does tackle a serious issue which was of tremendous relevance to women in her day, and would remain to be so for decades to come -- not only, but even more so, in a professional environment,

namely, single / illegitimate motherhood,

(spoiler show)

and which would have deserved to be put front and center and explored in depth.  Still, I'm giving a fair amount of kudos to her for the fact that she is addressing this topic at all, which, together with the odd moment of more competent writing or (dar I say it?) even amusement, accounts for the fact that I'm rating this book, overall, as average instead of sub-par.


Stephen Booth, in his introduction to the British Library Crime Classics edition of this novel (yes -- for once it's not introduced by series consultant Martin Edwards) deplores that Hay only published three mysteries before turning to other things, of which this and The Santa Klaus Murder are two and Murder on the Underground is the third.  Judging by The Santa Klaus Murder and by some bits and pieces of talent shining through here, that may well be true.  I am glad, however, that she didn't try to make a career out of treading the same paths so successfully trodden by Enid Blyton, Robert Arthur and their ilk.  Or at least, I am glad that she didn't try to make a career writing mysteries that have undergraduate college students for protagonists ...


I read this for the "Education, Education, Education" square / chapter of the Detection Club bingo (it's not one of the mysteries accorded a special essay-length portrayal in Martin Edwards's Story of Classic Crime in 100 books, but it is definitely more than merely name-checked in the corresponding chapter; and indeed, the image for the relevant square of the Detection Club bingo card is taken from this book's cover), as well as -- as an additional book -- for the "H" square of the Women Writers Bingo / Challenge.


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review 2018-02-11 22:28
All in the Family
Family Matters (British Library Crime Classics) - Anthony Rolls
Family Matters - Anthony Rolls,Gordon Griffin

Ooooh, I'm so glad this book was rescued from oblivion by the editors of the British Library Crime Classics series.  And I'm all the more glad for the fact that, reading its description, I didn't expect half the delights it would turn out to have in store.


Family Matters is, on its face, a take on the age-old theme of marital discord leading to murder -- one of the most prevalent topics in crime fiction practically ever since the inception of the genre, and done practically to death in its own right as a result of having been tackled by everybody from Arthur Conan Doyle to the Golden Age Queens of Crime and pretty much every other modern suspense and thriller writer.  So, a rave review by Dorothy L. Sayers notwithstanding, I approached this with quite pinch of caution.


I needn't have worried, and I now fully understand why the ever-skeptical Sayers even went so far as to proclaim that she was "quite ready to accept anything that is told me by so convincing an author" as to the chemistry involved in bringing about the murder (or was it?) and in confounding, in turn, the police, the medical experts, the coroner, and (almost) the jury.  (Though I would love to get a chemist's perspective on the accuracy of it all at some point.)


The real stand-out feature of this novel is Rolls's ability to sketch a character and an atmosphere, and his deliciously malicious sense of humor, which extends to pretty much everybody and everything involved in this sordid tale, beginning with the community in which it takes place, all the way to the fighting couple's neighbors and friends, the inmates and atmosphere of their horrid household, and the murdered man himself: if ever a character asked to be murdered, surely it is this story's Robert Arthur Kewdingham who, however, for all of Roll's scathing satire of the archetypal mysogynistic bully, still manages to be ... well, let's say at least two-and-a-half-dimensional.


Of course, towards the end of the story the judicial process is administered its due share of jibes as well, and in light of the Flat Book Society's recent read of Val McDermid's Forensics, I particularly enjoyed Roll's pick on the era's preeminent medical expert witnesses of the ilk of a Dr. Bernard Spilsbury:

"Pulverbatch was a thin, pale man, with an expression like that of a highly intellectual saint.  He appeared to be in ceaseless communion with a fount of inner knowledge.  When he spoke, he had a way of drawing back his thin lips, showing two rows of very small natural teeth, and occasionally giving a short whispering whistle.  In the seclusion of his fine Bayswater home he attempted, with no great success, to play jigs upon the violin for the entertainment of Mrs. Pulverbatch.


'Hyaline deterioration?' said the Professor to his eminent colleague. 'Yes, my dear chap -- I quite agree with you. But look here ... [...] I never saw anything like it.  I wish we had Chesterton here.  But I think we shall ultimately come to the conclusion which I ventured to put forward as a working hypothesis at the start.'"

Though I do own, and have read, the paperback edition of this book, I also highly recommend the audio version narrated by Gordon Griffin, who has fast become one of my favorite go-to narrators of books by British authors (or set in Britain).


I read this book for the "Ironists" chapter / square of the Detection Club bingo, the image for which is actually taken from the cover of this particular book.


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review 2018-02-05 01:39
Anatomy of a Murder ... Courtesy of the Detection Club
The Poisoned Chocolates Case - Anthony Berkeley
The Poisoned Chocolates Case - Anthony Berkeley,Gordon Griffin

Anthony Berkeley (full name: Anthony Berkeley Cox) was one of the co-founders of the legendary Detection Club; he published mysteries both under his own name (minus "Cox") and the pseudonym Francis Iles, which when he first used it was kept a secret so successfully that it took a full two years until his cover was blown.


The Poisoned Chocolates Case is one of the best-known mysteries published under the name Anthony Berkeley; it features both series detectives about whom Berkeley wrote under that name, his "main man" Roger Sheringham and his secondary detective, Ambrose Chitterwick (whose last name incidentally is a delicious exercise in phonetic imagery).  Published a year prior to the foundation of the Detection Club, this novel probably not quite unwittingly establishes -- under the name "Crimes Club" -- the model on which the real-life organization would shortly be based, arising out of a series of dinners organized by Berkeley:

"Entry into the charmed Crimes Circle's dinners was not to be gained by all and hungry.  It was not enough for a would-be member to profess an adoration for murder and let it go at that; he or she had got to prove that they were capable of worthily wearing their criminological spurs.


Not only must the interest be intense in all branches of the science, in the detection side, for instance, just as much as the side of criminal psychology, with the history of all cases of the least importance at the applicant's finger-tips, but there must be constructive ability too; the candidate must have a brain and be able to use it.  To this end, a paper had to be written, from a choice of subjects suggested by members, and submitted to the president, who passed on such as he considered worthy to the members in conclave, who thereupon voted for or against the suppliant's election, and a single adverse vote meant rejection."

Replace the "paper to be written" by a candidate's literary output to date, and you pretty much have the real life Detection Club's membership criteria pinned down -- they indeed were aiming at literary quality and profound knowledge of the subject matter, they loved investigating real life cases, and yes, the statutes explicitly state that a single vote opposing a candidate's membership is sufficient for his rejection.


One of the Detection Club's "round robin" publications is entitled Anatomy of Murder; in it, several members of the club analyzed real life murder cases.  In another one, Six Against the Yard, six members of the Detection Club devised what they considered "the perfect murder", and it was then up to a real life policeman, Ex-Superintendent Cornish of Scotland Yard C.I.D., to determine whether they had succeeded or whether the murderer would have been uncovered by a real police investigation after all.  In this respect, too, then, the premise of The Poisoned Chocolates Case -- the notion that a policeman would invite this most distinguished circle of amateur criminologists to help solving a case -- is not too far from the path things were bound to take, at least as far as the Detection Club's collaborative publications were concerned.  (In fact, each of the Crimes Circle members taking a stab at the solution in this novel makes reference to other widely-reported [fictional] murder cases in construing their solution as well.)


The case regarding which Chief Inspector Moresby of Scotland Yard invites the Crimes Circle in on the investigation concerns the death of a lady from (you guessed it) eating poisoned chocolates, which came out of a box that her husband had given her, and which he in turn had received from an acquaintance on the occasion of a chance meeting (or was it?) at their club.  It doesn't take a regular diet of Agatha Christie novels, where this sort of scenario and the associated possibilities for all sorts of slights of hand appear repeatedly, to recognize that there are three potential intended victims here, and accordingly, a wide variety of potential murder suspects, motives, and factual background scenarios.  Berkeley intelligently uses this to demonstrate that in writing crime fiction, virtually everything depends on which facts the writer chooses to disclose to the reader (and at which precise moment): Each of the members of the Crimes Circle takes a stab at solving the case, is initially congratulated heartily on his or her solution -- only to see their case thereupon being deconstructed by another member of the club, and superseded by that other member's solution. (Indeed, several members even go so far as to demonstrate that they themselves, or other members of the Crimes Circle, could easily be the guilty party.)  Along the way, Berkeley certainly isn't shy at poking fun at his venerable detectives:

"Facts were very dear to Sir Charles.  More, they were meat and drink to him.  His income of roughly thirty thousand pounds was able to handle facts.  There was no one at the bar who could so convincingly distort an honest but awkward fact into carrying an entirely different interpretation from that which any ordinary person (counsel for the prosecution, for instance) would have put upon it.  He could take that fact, look it boldly in the face, twist it round, read a messsage from the back of its neck, turn it inside out and detect auguries in its entrails, dance triumphantly on its corpse, pulverise it completely, remould it if necessary into an utterly different shape, and finally, if the fact still had the temerity to retain any vestige of its primary aspect, bellow at it in the most terrifying manner.  If that failed he was quite prepared to weep at it in open court."

(In case you're wondering, according to this historic currency converter, 30,000 GBP in 1929 would translate into roughly 2.64 million USD or 1.871 million GBP in today's currency.  And incidentally, I'd wager that Mr. Berkeley would have been sorely disappointed with the boring and matter-of-fact way it is considered good form for counsel to deport themselves in a German court.)


Berkeley's method and narrative intent, as well as the fact that not only the three above-mentioned potential victims and their families, social circles and business acquaintances but also the six detectives and their various families, social circles and business acquaintances need to be taken into account -- none of which feature in Moresby's initial narrative to the members of the Crimes Circle -- leads to a good bit of factual material being introduced into the story virtually from left field during the six Crimes Club members' solutions, with no way for the reader to anticipate any such matter whatsoever.  Moreover, as the various speakers' solutions are presented, the deep personal involvement and interest in the case of more than one member of the group becomes apparent -- involvement and interest of such a nature as would have had to cause any real life investigator to recuse him- or herself from the case.  I could have forgiven one occurrence of any of these issues, but the middle of the book in particular is fairly riddled with them, and this began to grate immensely after a while.  Fortunately, just when I had reached saturation point, came the moment for Roger Sheringham, as well as, after him, the novelist Alicia Dammers (who may or may not have been modelled on E.M. Delafield, author of The Diary of a Provincial Lady, whom Berkeley may (or may not) have admired), and finally for Mr. Chitterwick got to deliver their solutions, and at least during the former two of these I was reasonably placated -- during Roger Sheringham's conclusions, not least because he is the one Crimes Circle member whose investigation we're actually allowed to follow as readers.


The British Library edition of this novel comes with two extras; one new ending penned by Christianna Brand (a post-WWII member of the Detection Club) 50 years after the novel's original publication, and one written by current Detection Club president and British Library series consultant (and editor of this edition), Martin Edwards.  Both are witty additions; Brand's is probably a bit more in her own style than that of Berkeley, and I admit I wasn't sure whether I'd like what Edwards has managed to come up with -- but he very successfully turns the tables both on the original ending and on that written by Brand; he does it very much in Berkeley's own style (you can tell he's a fan and has obviously not merely read but ingested every work Berkeley has ever written, under any name he ever used), and he even stays true to the Detection Club's dearly held tradition of including a few in-jokes ... while making them obvious enough, however, for any reader even marginally familiar with things Berkeley and Detection Club to recognize what is going on. There are, for example, references to Edgar Wallace (whose thrillers were considered too low-brow to make him eligible for Detection Club membership, though Edwards has included several of them in the Crime Classics short story anthologies he has edited to date) and to an infamous 1920s real life murder case -- the Thomspon / Bywaters case --, a  new character named Cox is introduced, Edwards gives us a deftly-executed slight of hand literally with the last sentence of his coda, and en route to all this Berkeley's stab at defense counsel (as partially quoted above) is parried -- very much in the spirit of Berkeley himself, who wasn't actually very enamored of the police as an institution -- by this little counter-punch:

"'What I'd like to know is, whether you're prepared to accept the consequences of your confession.  Can't expect old Moresby to treat this as a case for applying the Chatham House Rule.'

The Chief Inspector, who was but vaguely aware of the existence of Chatham House, and knew nothing about its Rule, contented himself with a genial smile."

(The Chatham House Rule holds that anyone attending a meeting conducted pursuant to this rule is free to use any information divulged during the meeting, but is not allowed to reveal the source of that information.)


I own and have read the British Library Crime Classics paperback edition of this book, but the opportunity to listen to yet another Golden Age mystery as narrated by Gordon Griffin was too good to pass up, and I heartily recommend that version as well.


As far as the bingos go, I've already used my early January Margery Allingham & Albert Campion binge for the "Great Detectives" chapter / square of the Detection Club bingo, so I'm just doubling up on that square with this read, but so be it!  I'm having a blast discovering more and more of the Golden Age detectives that have gone, unlike Monsieur Poirot and his little grey cells, unduly long forgotten and have only recently started to make a reappearance.


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