Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L Sayers

Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L Sayers, is the second Lord Peter Wimsey book and one of my 20 Books of Summer. It was first published in 1926. My copy was reprinted in 1984 and I bought it secondhand four years ago.

Clouds of witness Sayers

From the back cover of my paperback:

A man is found shot, and the Duke of Denver is charged with his murder. Naturally, it is his brother, Lord Peter Wimsey, who is called in to investigate the crime. This is a family affair, for the murdered man was the fiancé of the sister of Denver and Wimsey.

Why, then, does the Duke refuse to co-operate with the investigation? Is he really guilty, or is he covering up for someone? Why is Wimsey attacked by an enraged farmer on the lonely moors? Why is an attempt made on his life in a Soho street?

My thoughts:

So many questions! And as I read even more popped into my mind – why did Lady Mary, Wimsey’s sister, leave the house at 3am on the morning of the murder? Why is she feigning illness? Whose footprints are those near the body of Denis Cathcourt (the murdered man)? What is the significance of the diamond cat charm with eyes of bright emeralds? And why won’t the Duke defend himself? Then there are the bloodstains and signs that the body had been dragged to the door of the conservatory where it was found, leading into the nearby thicket. If the Duke didn’t kill Cathcart who did and why?

The evidence against the Duke is circumstantial. So, Wimsey has his work cut out to prove his innocence and save him from the death penalty. Together with his friend, Inspector Charles Parker (who is in love with Lady Mary), and Bunter, his manservant, they look for clues and interview the family’s guests on the night of the murder. There are several strands to the story and minor characters who all manage to confuse the mystery.

There are some memorable scenes, such as Wimsey and Bunter’s escapade on the moors when they attempted to get to Grider’s Hole. The fog had come on them suddenly, blotting out their surroundings and they had no idea what direction to take. They strode forward gingerly unable to distinguish uphill from downhill – then Wimsey tripped into a bog, and found himself sinking up to his thighs. As well as struggling in the foggy bog, Wimsey also got shot and rather dramatically flew to New York in pursuit of evidence, a dangerous journey in a fragile plane as a deep depression was crossing the Atlantic bringing storms with heavy rain and sleet, rising to a gale as the plane lurched from gust to gust.

The trial scene in the House of Lords is fascinating:

The historic trial of the Duke of Denver for murder opened as soon as Parliament reassembled after the Christmas vacation. The papers had leaderettes on ‘Trial by his Peers’, by a Woman Barrister, and ‘The Privilege of Peers: should it be abolished?’ by a Student of History. The Evening Banner got into trouble for contempt by publishing an article entitled ‘The Silken Rope’ (by an Antiquarian), which was deemed to be prejudicial, and the Daily Trumpet – the Labour organ – inquired sarcastically why, when a peer was tried, the fun of seeing the show should be reserved to the few influential persons who could wangle tickets for the Royal Gallery. (pages 217 -218)

Clouds of Witness is a book of its time, there is much banter, wit and humour, and plenty of snobbery of all types clearly showing the class distinctions between the working and upper classes. It is a clever story, well told, with colourful characters and I liked the details it gives about Wimsey’s family as I’ve been reading these books totally out of order.

All in all, I enjoyed it – 4*.

Reading challenges: 20 Books of Summer, Calendar of Crime, and Mount TBR challenge 2019

My Friday Post: An April Shroud by Reginald Hill

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

An April Shroud by Reginald Hill is one of my 20 Books of Summer that I’ll be reading soon. It’s the 4th book in his Dalziel and Pascoe series.

April Shroud

 

No one knew how it came about that Dalziel was making a speech. Pascoe had with great reluctance let himself be persuaded into a church wedding, partly by the argument sentimental (Mum’s looking forward to it), partly by the argument economic (Dad’s paying for it), but mainly by the suspicion, hotly denied but well supported by circumstantial evidence, that Ellie herself wanted it.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

30879-friday2b56These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

‘So you’re not too worried about the boy?’

‘In the sense that he is too sensible to contribute willingly to his own harm, no. But as you say, the weather is appalling and, in addition, we live in troubled times, Mr Dalziel.’

Blurb:

Superintendent Dalziel falls for the recently bereaved Mrs Fielding’s ample charms, and has to be rescued from a litter of fresh corpses by Inspector Pascoe.

Superintendent Andy Dalziel’s holiday runs into trouble when he gets marooned by flood water. Rescued and taken to nearby Lake House, he discovers all is not well: the owner has just died tragically and the family fortunes are in decline. He also finds himself drawn to attractive widow, Bonnie Fielding.

But several more deaths are to follow. And by the time Pascoe gets involved, it looks like the normally hard-headed Dalziel might have compromised himself beyond redemption.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

This is one of the early Dalziel and Pascoe novels, first published in 1975. Although it begins with Pascoe’s wedding, the main story is centred around Dalziel, my favourite character in these books. I like to have a few books lined up to read and as I’ve nearly finished The Adventures of Maud West, Lady Detective, I think I’ll start An April Shroud today.

Blood on the Tracks: Railway Mysteries edited by Martin Edwards (British Library Crime Classics)

I’ve said before that I’m not a big fan of short stories, often finding them disappointing. So I’m glad to say that I enjoyed this anthology edited by Martin Edwards: Blood on the Tracks: Railway Mysteries. Some stories, of course, are better than others.

Blood on the tracks

There are fifteen railway themed stories in the collection and an introduction on classic railway mysteries by Martin Edwards. He has also prefaced each story with a brief biographical note, which I found useful as some of the authors were new to me. I read the collection slowly over a few months, which I find is the best way to approach a short story collection.

Train travel provides several scenarios for a mystery – the restriction of space on trains, with or without a corridor, means that there are a limited number of suspects and they can also provide an ideal place for a ‘locked room’ crime or an ‘impossible crime’ story. This collection also includes a couple of crimes with a supernatural element.

The mysteries are presented in roughly chronological order from 1898 up to  the 1950s. The ones I enjoyed the most are by R Austin Freeman, Roy Vickers, Dorothy L Sayers, F Tennyson Jesse and Freeman Crofts Willis.

  1. The Man with the Watches by Arthur Conan Doyle featuring an un-named sleuth, ‘a well-known criminal investigator’, about a man shot through his heart on the London to Manchester train. He had no ticket on him but had six valuable gold watches in his possession. This was first published in The Strand Magazine in 1898.
  2. The Mystery of Felwyn Tunnel by L T Meade and Robert Eustace. This was also first published in 1898 in which a signalman is found dead at the mouth of the tunnel. When another man dies in in the same place it looks as though something very strange is the cause of their deaths.
  3. How He Cut His Stick by Matthias McDonnell Bodkin. In this story Lady Detective Dora Myrl investigates the theft of £5,000 in gold and notes from a locked railway carriage.
  4. The Mysterious Death on the Underground Railway (1901) by Baroness Orczy, featuring the Old Man in the Corner, an ‘armchair detective’ as he sits in a teashop and tells journalist Polly Burton the solution to the murder of a young woman on the Underground, whilst he fiddles with a piece of string.
  5. The Affair of the Corridor Express by Victor L Whitechurch featuring the railway detective Thorpe Hazell. He investigates the kidnapping of the son of a millionaire.
  6. The Case of Oscar Brodski by R Austin Freeman, an ‘inverted’ detective story, in which the reader knows everything, whereas the detective knows nothing and it all hinges on the significance of trivial details, including fragments of glass, biscuit crumbs, a piece of string and threads of fabric.
  7. The Eighth Lamp by Roy Vickers – an underground mystery about switching off the station lamps after the last train had gone down the line, with a rather spooky supernatural ending.
  8. The Knight’s Cross Signal Problem by Ernest Bramah, in a steam engine crashes into a light train, killing twenty seven people and injuring forty plus. The cause of the accident is a mix up with the signals. I think this is one of the less successful stories for me.
  9. The Unsolved Puzzle of the Man with No Face (1928) by Dorothy L Sayers (a Lord Peter Wimsey story), . The body of a man is found on a lonely beach, his face slashed, and with no means of identification. Wimsey’s discussion of the crime with his fellow passengers as they travel into London, helps D I Winterbottom to solve the mystery – a most intriguing story.
  10. The Railway Carriage by F Tennyson Jesse (1931) – this is possibly my favourite story in the collection. It’s a supernatural mystery in which Solange Fontaine, a female sleuth with a ‘feeling for evil’ features meets two passengers on a train. Both the elderly woman, dressed in shabby black and the insignificant-looking man in a grey felt hat seem to be locked in their own thoughts and she feels very ill at ease. Then the train crashes. An excellent story.
  11. Mystery of the Slip-Coach by Sapper (1933), the creator of ‘Bulldog’ Drummond – an example of an ‘impossible crime’ in which the clue of a raw egg supplies the solution to the murder – I wasn’t convinced by this story.
  12. The Level Crossing by Freeman Crofts Willis ( 1933) in which a man is found dead, lying near an unmanned railway crossing. A mystery that shows the effects of unforeseen circumstances even on a well planned murder.
  13. The Adventure of the First-class Carriage by Ronald Knox (1947) a Sherlock Holmes pastiche with an ‘impossible crime’ scenario.
  14. Murder on the 7.16 by Michael Innes, a John Appleby mystery in which he investigates a murder in a railway carriage on trestles, not on wheels, as it is part of a film set.
  15. The Coulman Handicap by Michael Gilbert (1950s). I found this rather confusing as the police follow a woman passing on stolen goods as she uses the Underground to give them the slip. I think this is possibly the one story in the collection that failed to hold my interest.

My thanks to the publishers for my review copy via NetGalley.

  • Paperback: 358 pages
  • Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press (3 July 2018) in association with the British Library
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1464209693
  • ISBN-13: 978-1464209697
  • My rating: 3*

My Friday Post: Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L Sayers

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

I’m currently reading Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L Sayers, the second Lord Peter Wimsey book and one of my 20 Books of Summer.

Clouds of witness

 

Lord Peter Wimsey stretched himself luxuriously between the sheets provided by the Hôtel Meurice.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

30879-friday2b56These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

From amid the mud and the fallen leaves he retrieved a tiny glittering object – a flash of white and green between his finger-tips.

It was a little charm such as women hang upon a bracelet – a diminutive diamond cat with eyes of bright emerald.

Blurb:

The Duke of Denver, accused of murder, stands trial for his life in the House of Lords.
Naturally, his brother Lord Peter Wimsey is investigating the crime – this is a family affair. The murder took place at the duke’s shooting lodge and Lord Peter’s sister was engaged to marry the dead man.
But why does the duke refuse to co-operate with the investigation? Can he really be guilty, or is he covering up for someone?

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Beneath the Surface by Fiona Neill

Beneath the surface

Penguin UK – Michael Joseph|11 July 2019|403 pages|Review e-book copy|4*

I loved Fiona Neill’s novel The Betrayals, so I had high expectations for Beneath the Surface, another family drama. It’s set in the Fens, where Patrick and Grace Vermuyden and their two daughters, teenager Lilly and ten year old Mia, are living in badly built, damp and draughty house. Grace says it’s because the marshland beneath is reclaiming the land. It’s not just the land and the house that cause the problems the family face. They’re a dysfunctional family, all of them keeping their secrets well hidden from each other – as the subtitle indicates: Everyone Lies.

Patrick’s in debt, Grace keeps the tragedy of her childhood to herself, wanting her daughters to have the happy childhood denied to her, Lilly seems to have everything going for her, a clever girl who looks set to do well and go to university, until she suffers a seizure and collapses at school. Whilst Lilly spends time in hospital as they try to discover what is the cause of her illness Grace discovers to her great dismay that Lilly has been living a secret life.

As for Mia, she is a problem child and always in trouble at school. Her only friend is Tas, who lives in a caravan on the Travellers’ site.  She’s an eccentric child with a vivid imagination, who keeps an eel she calls Elvis, in a bucket in her bedroom and she has a knack of saying the most inappropriate remarks at the wrong time. At times I really didn’t like her much – especially for keeping the eel in captivity and also because of the barefaced lies she sometimes tells. And it is Mia’s actions, for ever wildly thinking up reasons for what is going on around her that add to their problems.  Even as she tries to put things right everything just seems to get worse.

Beneath the Surface is an emotionally charged novel about the burden of keeping secrets and the effects that misunderstandings and lies can have. In parts I found the story weighed down with words, but I was gripped by it and anxious for all the characters as it seemed they were in an ever decreasing spiral of disastrous events. After quite a slow start it gradually builds to a dramatic climax that took me totally by surprise. 

Many thanks to the publishers, Penguin UK – Michael Joseph, for my review copy via NetGalley.

The House by the Loch by Kirsty Wark

House by the loch

Two Roads|19 June 2019|384 pages|Review e-book copy|4*

I loved Kirsty Wark’s debut novel, The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle, so I was keen to read her second book, The House by the Loch. I enjoyed it very much. It’s a beautifully written family saga covering three generations. It has a strong sense of place and goes deep within the characters’ inner lives, hopes and fears. And as mysteries and secrets, losses and tragedy are gradually revealed I became totally absorbed by the story. At times immensely sad it is also uplifting. It’s set in Galloway in Scotland, south of Ayr near the Galloway Hills, mainly around Loch Doon.

The House by the Loch begins when ten-year-old Walter MacMillan witnessed a Spitfire crashing into Loch Doon in October 1941, based on a real incident. It was something he never forgot and he built a cairn as a memorial to the pilot. The narrative switches between the 1950s and the present day, telling of Walter’s marriage to Jean, a vibrant young woman when he first met her, his relationship with his children, Patrick and Fiona, and his grandchildren, Carson, Iona and Pete. They all have their problems and difficulties within their relationships, but matters come to a head one weekend when there is another tragedy in the loch.

This is a book that you need to take your time reading, a book to savour and reflect upon at leisure. It has a slow meditative pace as the beautiful scenery of the Galloway landscape unfolds in front of your eyes. But it is the characters themselves that kept me turning the pages, centred on Walter and his granddaughters Carson and Iona. Walter is an immensely patient man, but he was unprepared for the effect living in isolation in the house by the Loch had on Jean, who came to see it as a prison, and on their marriage and children.

Even the minor characters came across to me as real people – Edith, for example, Jean’s mother, an elegant beautiful woman who couldn’t leave her house and garden, feeling she might collapse, and her father brash businessman Billy. Then there are Marie, who helped Jean when she couldn’t look after Carson and Iona, Fiona, who struggled with her marriage, Elinor, Patrick’s wife and her sister, Meg and also Walter’s cousins who only come into the story in the latter part of the book.

Kirsty Wark’s love of Scotland comes over very strongly in this novel. I thoroughly enjoyed it and it reminded me of family sagas I’d read years ago – books that swept me along as the secrets of earlier generations impact on their descendants. It’s about family relationships, happiness, love, loss and heartbreak.

About Kirsty Wark

She is a journalist, broadcaster and writer who has presented a wide range of BBC programmes over the past thirty years, from the ground-breaking Late Show to the nightly current affairs show Newsnight and the weekly Arts and Cultural review and comment show, The Review Show. Her debut novel, The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle, was published in March 2014 by Two Roads and was shortlisted for the Saltire First Book of the Year Award, as well as nominated for the 2016 International DUBLIN Literary Award. Her second novel, The House by the Loch, has been inspired by her childhood memories and family, particularly her father. Born in Dumfries and educated in Ayr, Scotland, Kirsty now lives in Glasgow.

Many thanks to the publishers, Two Roads, for my review copy via NetGalley.

Anything You Do Say by Gillian McAllister

Anything you do say

Penguin |25 January 2018|358 pages|Paperback|3*

This is a very short post about Anything You Do Say, the second of Gillian McAllister’s books. Walking home alone late one night Joanna is sure the man following her is the man who wouldn’t leave her alone in the bar. She turns to face him and panicking she pushes him away. He falls down the steps leading to the towpath alongside a canal and doesn’t move. What should she do? Should she face the consequences – phone the police and ambulance and wait for them to arrive and  or just leave him there, lying in a puddle and walk away?

Both decisions have consequences and from that point on the book explores what would happen if she revealed or concealed her actions.

At first I found it a bit confusing keeping the two stories separate in my mind, but that soon passed as the chapters are clearly headed Reveal or Conceal.  It’s a dilemma and Joanna is an indecisive character who in both scenarios regrets choosing both reveal and conceal. I really wanted to like this book and although I think it’s well written and the characters, although in the main not very likeable, come across as believable, I found Joanna’s lies and deceit became tedious and the stories dragged on too much for my liking. I think the structure of the book made it seem artificial, more an exercise in morality than a tense thriller or a mystery. 

I prefer her other books that I’ve read –  Everything But the Truth, No Further Questions and The Evidence Against You.  They are all standalone books, so can be read in any order. 

This is on of my TBRs and also one of my 20 Books of Summer books.