Measure of Malice: Scientific Detection Stories edited by Martin Edwards

The Measure of Malice edited by Martin Edwards is one of the more enjoyable short story collections that I’ve read. It contains 14 stories in which scientific/technological methods are used in the detection of crime. There is an excellent introduction by Martin Edwards with information about the authors, five of whom were doctors, two were engineers and one was an academic chemist.

As always with short story collections some stories are better than others. I’m highlighting a few of the better ones here:

The Boscombe Valley Mystery by A Conan Doyle was originally published in the Strand Magazine in October 1891, and is the first short story to feature Inspector Lestrade. It’s a solid story, solved by Sherlock Holmes by inspecting and analysing the footprints and signs at the scene of the crime.

The Horror of Studley Grange by L T Meade and Clifford Halifax (1894), from Stories for the Diary of a Doctor, originally published in the Strand Magazine. I enjoyed this one although it was pretty easy to predict. Ostensibly a ghost story, the solution involves the use of a laryngoscope.

After Death the Doctor by J J Connington, a Scottish professor of chemistry. This one was first published in 1934, involving a contemporary scientific gadget. The doctor in question is Doctor Shefford who together with Sergeant Longridge, investigate the murder of old Barnaby Leadburn, found dead with his throat cut.

The next two are the ones I enjoyed the most:

The Broken Toad by H C Bailey, first published in 1934, featuring the surgeon and Home Office Consultant, Reggie Fortune as he considers the death of a police constable from poisoning. I enjoyed all the detailed complications and Bailey’s literary mannered style of storytelling.

In the Teeth of the Evidence by Dorothy L Sayers, first published in 1939, about forensic dentistry, which starts as Lord Peter Wimsey is sitting in his dentist’s chair. The police had just visited the surgery, wanting to see his predecessor’s records to identify the victim of a burnt out garage. An upper right incisor crown and the filling in a molar provided the clues to his death. Gory if you actually visualise what is involved!

  • Publisher : Poisoned Pen Press (4 Feb. 2020)
  • Language: : English
  • Paperback : 336 pages
  • ISBN-10 : 1492699624
  • ISBN-13 : 978-1492699620
  • Source: The Poisoned Pen Press via NetGalley
  • My Rating: 3.5*

The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler

In December I read 12 books, most of them short ones, and because I was reading them one after the other I hardly paused to write about them. Before they slip out of my memory I want to write about some of them at least. –

I particularly want to write about The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler as it is one of those books that I’ve always heard about but have never read. It’s been on my Kindle for the last three years. It was first published in 1939 and is an excellent example of what is known as ‘hardboiled’ crime fiction, which generally featured a private eye with a whisky bottle in a filing cabinet, a femme fatale, and rich and usually corrupt clients. Female sexuality is a snare in a dangerous society where manipulative politicians and corrupt police thrive.

About the book:

Best-known as the creator of the original private eye, Philip Marlowe, Raymond Chandler was born in Chicago in 1888 and died in 1959. Many of his books have been adapted for the screen, and he is widely regarded as one of the very greatest writers of detective fiction. His books include The Big SleepThe Little SisterFarewell, My LovelyThe Long Good-byeThe Lady in the LakePlaybackKiller in the RainThe High Window and Trouble is My Business.

The Big Sleep has been adapted for film twice, in 1946 with Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall, John Ridgely, Martha Vickers, and again in 1978, with Robert Mitchum, Sarah Miles, Richard Boone, Candy Clark.

My thoughts:

The novel is narrated by Philip Marlow, who describes himself as a ‘lone wolf, unmarried, getting middle-aged, and not rich.’ He’s been in jail more than once, likes liqour and women and the cops don’t like him much, although he does get on with a couple of them.

It’s not really the type of crime fiction that I like, but I did enjoy it. There are damsels in distress, gangsters, corrupt officials, and plenty of dark, violent and bloody situations. And of course there are murders – the ‘big sleep’ is death, after all. It’s fast-paced, violent, complicated and in times I found it a bit difficult to follow.

Reading the book took me back in time and place to Los Angeles in the late 1930s, a baking hot LA in which Private Investigator Marlow is hired by the paralysed millionaire General Stallwood, who is being blackmailed. His investigations are hampered by the General’s two daughters, one of whom proves to be a femme fatale, out to entrap Marlow and vindictive when her efforts fail. Chandler’s writing is sharp, snappy and richly descriptive with witty one-liners.

Back to the Classics Challenge 2021

This is the 8th year that Karen at Books and Chocolate has hosted the Back to the Classics Challenge and this is the first time I’ll be joining in. See Karen’s sign-up post on Books and Chocolate for more details about the challenge.

There are twelve categories and these are the books I’ve initially chosen – but there are others I could choose, so this list may/probably will change.

  1. A 19th century classic: any book first published from 1800 to 1899 – Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens 1857.
  2. A 20th century classic: any book first published from 1900 to 1971. All books must have been published at least 50 years ago; the only exceptions are books which were written by 1971 and posthumously published – Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford – 1924 – 1928.
  3. A classic by a woman author – Orlando by Virginia Woolf – 1927.
  4. A classic in translation, meaning any book first published in a language that is not your primary language. You may read it in translation or in its original language, if you prefer. Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
  5. A classic by BIPOC author; that is, a non-white author. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas.
  6. A classic by a new-to-you author, i.e., an author whose work you have never read. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.
  7. A new-to-you classic by a favourite author — a new book by an author whose works you have already read. Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope.
  8. A classic about an animal, or with an animal in the title. The animal can be real or metaphorical. (i.e., To Kill a Mockingbird). Black Beauty by Anna Sewell.
  9. A children’s classic – The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit.
  10. A humorous or satirical classic. Three Men on the Bummel by Jerome K Jerome.
  11. A travel or adventure classic (fiction or non-fiction). It can be a travelogue or a classic in which the main character travels or has an adventure. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift.
  12. A classic play. Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare – I’ve seen the play and the film, but haven’t read the book.

The Classics Club Spin Result

The spin number in The Classics Club Spin is number …

which for me is Orlando by Virginia Woolf. The rules of the Spin are that this is the book for me to read by 30 January, 2021.

Orlando tells the tale of an extraordinary individual who lives through centuries of English history, first as a man, then as a woman; of his/her encounters with queens, kings, novelists, playwrights, and poets, and of his/her struggle to find fame and immortality not through actions, but through the written word. At its heart are the life and works of Woolf’s friend and lover, Vita Sackville-West, and Knole, the historic home of the Sackvilles. But as well as being a love letter to Vita, Orlando mocks the conventions of biography and history, teases the pretensions of contemporary men of letters, and wryly examines sexual double standards.

I hope I get on better with this book than I did with my last Classics Club Spin book, which was Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy. I did start reading it, but didn’t get very far – it wasn’t appealing to me at all!

Did you take part in the Classics Spin? What will you be reading?

The Classics Club Spin Result

Classics Club

The spin number in The Classics Club Spin was announced yesterday. It’s number …

18

which for me is Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy. The rules of the Spin are that this is the book for me to read by 30 September, 2020.

My last Spin result was The Return of the Native, which I loved. So I am delighted this time to get another of Hardy’s books to read.

Independent and spirited Bathsheba Everdene has come to Weatherbury to take up her position as a farmer on the largest estate in the area. Her bold presence draws three very different suitors: the gentleman-farmer Boldwood, soldier-seducer Sergeant Troy and the devoted shepherd Gabriel Oak. Each, in contrasting ways, unsettles her decisions and complicates her life, and tragedy ensues, threatening the stability of the whole community. The first of his works set in the fictional county of Wessex, Hardy’s novel of swift passion and slow courtship is imbued with his evocative descriptions of rural life and landscapes, and with unflinching honesty about sexual relationships.  (Goodreads)

Did you take part in the Classics Spin? What will you be reading?

Classics Club Spin

What is the spin?

It’s easy. At your blog, before next Sunday 9th August 2020, create a post that lists twenty books of your choice that remain “to be read” on your Classics Club list.

This is your Spin List. You have to read one of these twenty books by the end of the spin period. On Sunday 9th August, the Classics Club will post a number from 1 through 20. The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List by 30th September, 2020.

I have just 7 books left on my list, so I’ve repeated the list twice (minus the 7th book for second repeat).

  1. 8, 15 The Riddle of the Third Mile by Colin Dexter
  2. 9, 16 Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
  3. 10, 17 Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford
  4. 11, 18 Far from the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
  5. 12, 19 Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  6. 13, 20 Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope
  7. 14 Orlando by Virginia Woolf

I really don’t mind which book is chosen!

Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert

Rating: 4 out of 4.

Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert, first published in 1950, was his fourth Inspector Hazelrigg novel. It’s the first one I’ve read, although I have read two of his other books. There is an excellent introduction by Martin Edwards, which gives details of Gilbert’s career as a a solicitor and as a mystery writer. He wrote 30 novels and 185 short stories, as well as work for radio, television and stage.

As the title tells you Smallbone is dead. He was one of the trustees of the Ichabod Stokes Trust together with Abel Horniman, the senior partner of a London law firm, Horniman, Birley and Craine. After the recent death of Abel, whilst looking for the deeds relating to the Trust, Marcus Smallbone’s body was discovered in the Trust’s deed box, a large, hermetically sealed box.

Inspector Hazelrigg runs the police investigation. It’s obviously an inside job and with the help of Henry Bohun, a newcomer to the firm, the police investigate each of the suspects until by process of elimination the culprit is identified. Of course it’s not that straight forward, as each person’s motive, opportunity and alibi is considered and there are a number of red herrings that did baffle me a little. There is rather too much detail about the finances of the firm for my liking, but apart from that the book moves along swiftly.

The setting in the solicitors’ office after the end of the Second World War is well done and reflects the differences between the male professionals and the female admin staff with their intrigues, rivalries and flirtations. I think Bohun is the most interesting character, although they are all individually distinguishable. Bohun is not just new to the firm, but also a newly qualified solicitor. He has para-insomnia and never gets a full night’s sleep, averaging about ninety minutes a night. It doesn’t make him feel tired, but means he has lots of time to help Inspector Hazelrigg and still carry out his job, as well as doing a good deal of reading, walking the streets and even working as a night watchman. It’s written with a light touch and a sense of humour and I enjoyed it very much.

Now, I’d like to read more of Gilbert’s work, maybe starting with some of his short stories as Bohun appeared in nine short stories and also in a six-part radio thriller and Hazelrigg featured in nineteen short stories as well as in six novels.

Michael Gilbert

Michael Gilbert (1912-2006) wrote thrillers, police procedurals and espionage novels that rank among the highest and most varied achievements of British crime writing in the second half of the twentieth century. A founding member of the Crime Writers’ Association, Gilbert was for many years partner in a London law firm and drew on his knowledge of the law in writing his most acclaimed novel. For more information about Michael Gilbert see this article by Martin Edwards.

Format: Kindle Edition
File Size: 5145 KB
Print Length: 236 pages
Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0755119193
Publisher: British Library Publishing (22 Jan. 2019)
Source: I bought it

My Friday Post: Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert

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.

My choice this week is Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert, one of the British Library Crime Classics.

It begins:

‘The thoughts of all present tonight,’ said Mr Birley, ‘will naturally turn first to the great personal loss – the very great personal loss – so recently suffered by the firm, by the legal profession and, if I may venture to say so without contradiction, by the British public.’

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

30879-friday2b56

These 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 55 (page 56 is missing)

‘And why does that mean he couldn’t have killed Smallbone?’ said Bohun quietly.

‘I quite forgot, ‘ said Hazelrigg, ‘You don’t know how he was killed.’

‘I don’t said Bohun steadily, ‘and I suggest,’ he added, ‘that if you you’re going to trust me you don’t set traps for me.’

The book blurb:

Horniman, Birley and Craine is a highly respected legal firm with clients drawn from the highest in the land. When a deed box in the office is opened to reveal a corpse, the threat of scandal promises to wreak havoc on the firm’s reputation – especially as the murder looks like an inside job. The partners and staff of the firm keep a watchful and suspicious eye on their colleagues, as Inspector Hazlerigg sets out to solve the mystery of who Mr Smallbone was – and why he had to die.

Written with style, pace and wit, this is a masterpiece by one of the finest writers of traditional British crime novels since the Second World War.

~~~

This will be the third book by Michael Gilbert that I’ve read. I thoroughly enjoyed Death Has Deep Roots when I read it last year, and so I’m hoping I’ll enjoy this one too.

If you have read it please let me know what you thought of it.

The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy

Blurb from Amazon:

First published serially between January and December of 1878 in the sensationalistic monthly London magazine “Belgravia”, Thomas Hardy’s “The Return of the Native” is the author’s sixth published novel. Set in Egdon Heath, an area of Thomas Hardy’s fictionalized Wessex known for the thorny evergreen shrubs, called furze or gorse, which are cut there by its residents for fuel.

When the story begins, on Guy Fawkes Night, we find Diggory Venn, a merchant of the red mineral called reddle which farmers use to mark their sheep, giving aid to Thomasin Yeobright, whom he is in love with but has unsuccessfully wooed over the preceding two years. Diggory is helping Thomasin, who is in distress having left town with Damon Wildeve under the false promise of matrimony, return home to her aunt, Mrs. Yeobright. Damon has rebuffed Thomasin in favor of the beautiful young Eustacia Vye.

However when Mrs. Yeobright’s son Clym, a successful diamond merchant, returns from Paris, Eustacia loses interest in Damon, seeing a relationship with Clym as an opportunity to escape the Heath in favor of a more glamorous and exciting locale. A classically modern novel, “The Return of the Native” presents a world of people struggling between their unfulfilled desires and the expectations of society. 

My thoughts:

Thomas Hardy is one of my favourite authors and I throughly enjoyed The Return of the Nativewhich I think is one of his best books. I loved the setting on Eldon Heath, which is based on the small heath by Hardy’s childhood home, but is much larger. The ancient round barrows named Rainbarrows, and Rushy Pond, which lie immediately behind Hardy’s childhood home, form the centre of the fictional heath. Hardy’s description of it is detailed, poetically lyrical and beautiful. 

It’s a dramatic and tragic love story. It has a large cast of characters, with lovers who change their affections throughout the novel and it’s full of intrigue with striking moonlit scenes, disputes, heated quarrels and misunderstandings, along with rustic characters and traditional celebrations, for example Guy Fawkes night, May Day and a Mummers’ play at Christmas.

It was first published in 1878 in three volumes with revisions at later dates. The revision I read was published in 1912. Hardy’s Preface establishes that the events described took place between 1840 and 1850. ‘Egdon Heath’ is a combination of various heaths that were later ploughed or planted to woodland. He liked to think of it as the ‘heath of that traditionary King of Wessex – Lear’. The Return of the Native is a complex novel, shocking to its contemporary public because of its depiction of passionate and illicit sexual relationships (tame by today’s standards).

It begins with a description of Egdon Heath, a sombre isolated place, loved by some and hated by others, some regarding it as a prison. Along the ancient highway that crossed the heath the solitary figure of an old man sees a cart ahead of him in the long dry road. Both the driver, who walked beside it, and the cart, were completely red – he was a reddleman, who supplied  farmers with redding for their sheep. He plays an important part in the novel, appearing at significant times and places to great effect on the course of events. 

It’s not a book to read quickly and it transported me back to a time that ceased to exist before I was born, where time moved more slowly, ruled by the seasons and the weather, and with a clearly defined social hierarchy. And yet, I was surprised to find that youngsters were scribbling graffiti on ‘every gatepost and barn’s doors’, writing ‘some bad word or other’ so that a woman can hardly pass for shame some time.’ Learning to write and sending children to school was blamed:

’Ah, there’s too much of that sending to school these days! It only does harm. … If they’d never been taught how to write they wouldn’t have been able to scribble such villainy. Their fathers couldn’t do it, and the country was all the better for it.’ (Page 108)8

Quite simply – I loved it. It’s a love story full of depth, atmosphere and passion, but also of tragedy  and a mix of darkness and light.

The Classics Club Spin Result

Classics Club
The spin number in The Classics Club Spin was announced yesterday. It’s number … 6

which for me is The Return of the Native by Thomas Hardy. The rules of the Spin are that this is the book for me to read by 1 June, 2020.

The Return of the Native

I’m delighted with this as I’ve been meaning to read it for years and never got round to it.

‘To be loved to madness – such was her great desire’

Eustacia Vye criss-crosses the wild Egdon Heath, eager to experience life to the full in her quest for ‘music, poetry, passion, war’. She marries Clym Yeobright, native of the heath, but his idealism frustrates her romantic ambitions and her discontent draws others into a tangled web of deceit and unhappiness.

Early readers responded to Hardy’s ‘insatiably observant’ descriptions of the heath, a setting that for D. H. Lawrence provided the ‘real stuff of tragedy’. For modern readers, the tension between the mythic setting of the heath and the modernity of the characters challenges our freedom to shape the world as we wish; like Eustacia, we may not always be able to live our dreams. (Amazon)

Did you take part in the Classics Spin? What will you be reading?