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review 2018-12-04 21:50
24 Festive Tasks: Door 20 - Christmas, Book
The Christmas Card Crime and Other Stories - Martin Edwards,Various Authors
The Christmas Card Crime and Other Stories - Gordon Griffin,Anne Dover,Martin Edwards,Various Authors

The third annual edition of the British Library's anthologies of unjustifiedly-buried Golden Age Christmas mystery short stories, again edited by Martin Edwards.  Great fun and a great way to segue into the holiday season, one story at a time.

 

I'm using it as my book for, guess what, the Christmas square of 24 Festive Tasks.

 

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text 2018-11-23 17:17
24 Festive Tasks: Door 8 - Penance Day, Task 1 (Comfort Reads)
The Complete Sherlock Holmes - Arthur Conan Doyle
Poirot: The Complete Battles of Hastings, Vol. 1 - Agatha Christie
Poirot: The Complete Battles of Hastings, Vol. 2 - Agatha Christie
Gaudy Night - Dorothy L. Sayers
A Man Lay Dead / Enter a Murderer / The Nursing Home Murder (The Ngaio Marsh Collection) - Ngaio Marsh
The Clock Strikes Twelve - Patricia Wentworth
Envious Casca - Georgette Heyer
Margery Allingham Omnibus: Includes Sweet Danger, The Case of the Late Pig, The Tiger in the Smoke - Margery Allingham
The Great Detectives - JULIAN SYMONS,TOM ADAMS
The Golden Age of Murder - Martin Edwards

It's probably no secret that my comfort reads are Golden Age mysteries -- I'm slowly making my way through the works of the members of the Detection Club, including the forgotten and recently republished ones, but most of all, I keep coming back to, again and again:

 

Arthur Conan Doyle / Sherlock Holmes: Still the grand master -- both the detective and his creator -- that no serious reader of mysteries can or should even try to side-step.  I've read, own, and have reread countless times all 4 novels and 56 short stories constituting the Sherlock Holmes canon, and am now making my way through some of the better-known /-reputed Holmes pastiches (only to find -- not exactly to my surprise -- that none of them can hold a candle to the original), as well as Conan Doyle's "non-Holmes" fiction.

 

And, of course --

 

The Golden Age Queens of Crime

Agatha Christie: Like Sherlock Holmes, part of my personal canon from very early on.  I've read and, in many cases, reread more than once and own (largely as part of a series of anniversary omnibus editions published by HarperCollins some 10 years ago) all of Agatha Christie's novels and short stories published under this name, as well as her autobiography, with only those of her books published under other names (e.g., the Mary Westmacott romances) left to read.

 

Dorothy L. Sayers: My mom turned me onto Sayers when I was in my teens, and I have never looked back.  I've read all of her Lord Peter Wimsey novels and short stories, volume 1 of her collected letters (which covers her correspondence from childhood to the end of her career as a mystery writer), and some of her non-Wimsey short stories and essays.  Gaudy Night and the two addresses jointly published under the title Are Women Human? are among my all-time favorite books; not least because they address women's position in society decades before feminism even became a mass movement to be reckoned with, and with a validity vastly transcending both Sayers's own lifetime and our own. -- Next steps: The remainder of Sayers's non-Wimsey stories and of her essays, as well as her plays.

 

Ngaio Marsh: A somewhat later entry into my personal canon, but definitely a fixture now.  I've read all of her Inspector Alleyn books and short stories and reread many of them.  Still on my TBR: her autobiography (which happily is contained in the last installments of the series of 3-book-each omnibus volumes I own).

 

Patricia Wentworth: Of the Golden Age Queens of Crime, the most recent entry into my personal canon.  I'd read two books by her a few years ago and liked one a lot, the other one considerably less, but Tigus expertly steered the resident mystery fans on Booklikes to all the best entries in the Miss Silver series, which I'm now very much looking forward to completing -- along with some of Wentworth's other fiction.

 

Georgette Heyer: I'm not a romance reader, so I doubt that I'll ever go anywhere near her Regency romances.  But I'm becoming more and more of a fan of her mysteries; if for no other reason than that nobody, not even Agatha Christie, did viciously bickering families as well as her.

 

Margery Allingham: I'm actually more of a fan of Albert Campion as portrayed by Peter Davison in the TV adaptations of some of Allingham's mysteries than of her Campion books as such, but I like at least some of those well enough to eventually want to complete the series -- God knows I've read enough of them at this point for the completist in me to have kicked in long ago.  I've also got Allingham's very first novel, Blackerchief Dick (non-Campion; historical fiction involving pirates) sitting on my audio TBR.

 

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text 2018-11-19 18:17
24 Festive Tasks: Door 6 - International Day for Tolerance, Task 1 (Book Redemption)
The Lake District Murder - John Bude
The Lake District Murder - John Bude,Gordon Griffin

Looking back through my "read" shelf, one of the books I liked least this year was John Bude's Lake District Murder.  I felt the book missed a monumental opportunity in not exploiting the dramatic setting of the Lake District where the action takes place, and I was also rather annoyed by the fact that the investigation into the murder discovered at the beginning of the book is sidetracked not once but twice -- admittedly into ultimately related crimes, but by God, the two investigative strains should have been much more intertwined.

 

That said, any reader adverse to last-minute surprise revelations and preferring to remain on an equal footing with the book's detectives will have absolutely no reason to complain here: Bude (like Freeman Wills Crofts) subscribed to the notion of "playing fair with the reader," so any and all clues uncovered by the police are laid out the moment they are uncovered (and in excrutiating detail).  For me, the resulting conclusions were altogether a bit too obvious ... but if this is your jam -- and it has to be admitted that "playing fair with the reader" was a maxim to which all members of the Detection Club subscribed (even though they implemented it in vastly differing ways) -- then maybe you should give Bude's writing a try.

 

Original review HERE.

 

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review 2018-11-16 19:40
24 Festive Tasks: Doors 3, 21 and 24 - Books for Melbourne Cup Day, Kwanzaa and Epiphany
Field of Thirteen - Dick Francis
The Guards - Ken Bruen,Gerry O'Brien
The Clock Strikes Twelve - Diana Bishop,Patricia Wentworth


Dick Francis: Field of Thirteen

I've owned this collection of short stories since forever and decided our Melbourne Cup Day book task was the perfect occation so pull it out and finally read it.  Candidly, I'm not sure why Dick Francis didn't write more short stories: both his style of writing and his plot construction lent themselves perfectly to the short form, and I tend to view even some of his novels as short story constructs extended to novel length rather than books conceived as novels in the first place (even though they probably were).  Be that as it may, this is a very enjoyable collection featuring some of Francis's best writing, set in the world of racehorse breeding (and stealing and betting), and against the great race events of Britain and the U.S., from the Grand National, Ascot, Sandown Park, the Marlborough Racing Club Gallops, Cheltenham and Stratford to the Kentucky Derby, plus the odd imaginary racetrack (unfortunately, not also the Melbourne Cup).  Not all of the mysteries involve a death, and not all the deaths that occur are caused intentionally -- word to the wise, however, steeplechase racing is a hazardous sport for humans and horses alike, and Francis makes no bones about this particular fact.

 


Ken Bruen: The Guards
(Narrator: Gerry O'Brien)

Ken Bruen's Jack Taylor series has been on my radar ever since I watched the first episode of its TV adapatation, starring Iain Glen.  The Guards provides as gut-punch an opener as is conceivable to the series; we see how and why Taylor is dismissed from the Gardaí Síochána, and though the motif of the loner detective who struggles not only at socializing but also with a range of other things, most notably including full-blown alcoholism, is a veritable staple in today's detective fiction, I can think of few other series where particularly the protagonist's addiction is explored this forthrightly (well, OK, Harry Hole comes to mind).  Taylor is -- literally -- not afraid to pull punches, but he is fiercly loyal to those to whom he feels loyalty is due ... and ready to take his loyalty all the way if necessary.  I've never been to County Galway, where the series is set, and I can't shake the feeling that I'd get even more out of it if I had, but even so, this is one series I'm glad to have finally added to those that I'm now following (and I'm not exactly sad I have a bunch of installments to catch up on first).  Gerry O'Brien's narration, too, did a stellar job in transporting the book's tone and atmosphere.

 

I listened to this for the Kwanzaa square (a book with a black cover). 

 


Patricia Wentworth: The Clock Strikes Twelve
(Narrator: Diana Bishop)

This came with high praise from both Tigus and Moonlight, so I knew I had a lot to look forward to -- and I was certainly not disappointed!  This is a New Year's Eve story and the "family patriarch publicly announces 'I know someone here has betrayed family interests and you've got until midnight to come forward and confess your sins'" classic mystery plot variant ... seriously, someone should have told those Golden Age family patriarchs not to do this sort of thing because it'll invariably get them killed.  Anyway, Wentworth had comfortably settled into her formula by the time she wrote this book, and I agree with Moonlight -- this is now my new favorite entry in the series, too.  Though written strictly to Wentworth's formula (cozy rural setting with bickering family [or village population], lovers to (re)bond, a reasonable but not impenetrable amount of red herrings, a perhaps not entirely unexpected villain, and an investigation by thoroughly compentent police inspectors who are, nevertheless, easily "bested" by Miss Silver), the characters and their various conflicts are finely and credibly drawn and jump off the page as real people ... and Miss Silver, as always, is a sheer delight.  Well done, Maudie!  And Patricia -- and Diana (Bishop), whose reading of the Miss Silver books I've thoroughly come to enjoy.

 

I'm counting this book towards the "Epiphany" square of "24 Festive Tasks" (a book with the word "twelve" in the title).

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review 2018-11-12 13:30
24 Festive Tasks: Doors 2 and 5 - Books for Guy Fawkes Night and Veterans' / Armistice Day
Behold, Here's Poison - Georgette Heyer
Behold, Here's Poison - Georgette Heyer
The Riddle of the Third Mile - Colin Dexter,Samuel West
The Riddle of the Third Mile - Colin Dexter


Georgette Heyer: Behold, Here's Poison
(Narrator: Ulli Birvé)

The first Georgette Heyer mysteries I read were her Inspector Hemingway books, which in a way meant I was starting from the wrong end, as Hemingway progressed to the rank of inspector from having been the lead investigator's sergeant in the earlier Superintendent Hannasyde books.  That doesn't impede my enjoyment of Hannasyde's cases in the least, however, now that I'm getting around to these, even though I found the first one (Death in the Stocks) seriously underwhelming.  But Heyer redeems herself in a big way with Behold, Here's Poison: Though a fair share of her mysteries have a sizeable contingent of 1920s-30s stock-in-trade bright young things and generally "nice chaps" (which got on my nerves enough at one point to make me decide I'd had enough of Heyer), when she did set her mind to it, nobody, not even Agatha Christie, did maliciously bickering families like her.  And the family taking center stage here must be one of the meanest she's ever come up with, only (just) surpassed by the Penhallows.  I'm not overwhelmed with the story's romantic dénouement (there always is one in Heyer's books), and while I guessed the mystery's essential "who" and had a basic idea of the "why" at about the 3/4 - 4/5 mark (the actual "why" was a bit of a deus ex machina), by and large this has to count among my favorite Heyer mysteries so far ... though not quite reaching the level of my overall favorite, Envious Casca.

 

Ulli Birvé isn't and won't ever become my favorite narrator, and she seriously got on my nerves here, too.  Since all of the recent re-recordings of Heyer's mysteries are narrated by her, though, I've decided I won't hold her mannerisms against the author, and I've read enough print versions of Heyer books at this point to have a fairly good idea of what a given character would sound like in my head if I'd read instead of listened to the book in question.

 

 


Colin Dexter: The Riddle of the Third Mile
(Narrator: Samuel West)

For Veterans' / Armistice Day I'm claiming the very first book I revisited after the beginning of the 24 Festive Tasks game: Colin Dexter's The Riddle of the Third Mile had long been one of my favorite entries in the Inspector Morse series, but Samuel West's wonderful reading not only confirmed that status but actually moved it up yet another few notches.  (Samuel West is fast becoming one of my favorite audiobook narrators anyway.) The fact that due to the progress of medical research a key element of the mystery would have been much easier to solve these days does not impede my enjoyment in the least ... changing social mores aside, half the Golden Age crime literature, including many of the great classics by Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers and even, on occasion, Arthur Conan Doyle would be deprived of substantial riddles if they were set today. -- The book qualifies for this particular "24 Festive Tasks" square, because some of the characters' and their siblings' encounter as British soldiers at the battle of El Alamein (1942) forms the prologue to the book and an important motive for their actions in the world of Oxford academia and Soho strip clubs, some 40 years later.

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