The Secret of High Eldersham by Miles Burton

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Secret of High Eldersham by Miles Burton was first published in 1930. Miles Burton is a pseudonym. His real name was Cecil John Charles Street (1884 – 1964) and he also wrote under the names of John Rhode and Cecil Way. I like these names – variations on the word ‘street’. This edition was published by the British Library in 2016 and is one of my TBRs.

It’s not an easy book to write about. There is a murder – that of the landlord of the Rose and Crown Inn in the village of High Eldersham. He was found dead slumped in a chair, having been stabbed in the neck. The local police don’t feel able to deal with the murder so call in help from Scotland Yard.

But when Detective Inspector Young arrives he discovers that there is something very strange about the village and its inhabitants. Like a lot of small and remote villages the local people keep themselves to themselves and are very wary of strangers – they’re not made welcome and they don’t stay very long. But it’s more than that. Strange things are happening, and Young’s theory to account for the queerness of the place seemed to him (and to me) ‘so impossible, so utterly fanciful, that to entertain it was to doubt his own sanity.’ It concerns ancient legends and customs with a supernatural element. And this is what makes it difficult to write about because to say anything more about this ‘queerness‘ would be to give away a major part of the plot.

Young decides he can’t deal with this on his own and he contacts his friend, Desmond Merrion, a brilliant individual from the intelligence branch of the Admiralty, he had met during the war. He writes to Merrion inviting him to the inquest into the Inn’s landlord death, where he meets a war-time acquaintance, Laurence Hollesley.

From that point on the novel branches into two stories – the murder mystery and a thriller full of danger, drama and pace, plus a damsel in distress and spot of smuggling thrown into the mix. I enjoyed it. It’s easy to read, even if I find it difficult to write about, with clearly identifiable characters and a good sense of location. There’s suspense and the tension rises as the mystery reaches its climax.

Merrion also appears in the one other book I have by Miles Burton – Death in the Tunnel, which I hope to read soon.

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

Fell Murder: a Lancashire Mystery by E C R Lorac (British Library Crime Classics)

‘…this crime is conditioned by the place. To understand the one you’ve got to study the other.’

Fell Murder

Poisoned Pen Press|6 January 2020|223 pages|e-book |Review copy|4.5*

Murder by Matchlight (British Library Crime Classics ) by E C R Lorac

A Golden Age Mystery

Murder by Matchlight

Poisoned Pen Press|5 March 2019|288 pages|e-book |Review copy|5*

Excellent Intentions by Richard Hull

Excellent Intentions

Poisoned Pen Press|2 October 2018 |227 pages|e-book |Review copy|2.5*

This edition, published in association with the British Library, has an introduction by Martin Edwards. It was first published in 1938 by Faber and Faber. It’s the second book by Richard  Hull that I’ve read. However, I didn’t think Excellent Intentions was as enjoyable as the first one, The Murder of My Aunt.

Henry Cargate, of Scotney End Hall, died on a train for London, from a heart attack brought on when he inhaled snuff laced with potassium cyanide. He was an unpleasant man, the most disliked person in the village of Scotney End and several people were suspected of murdering him. One of those suspects (who is not named until near the end of the book) was arrested and is on trial for his murder. The potassium cyanide crystals, mixed into Cargate’s snuff had been bought to destroy a wasps’ nest. So, Inspector Fenby’s investigation concentrates on the limited opportunities available for the murderer to add the poison to Cargate’s snuffbox, which he kept in his study.

The book begins as the counsel for the prosecution makes his opening speech and makes his case for the judge and jury. It then follows the trial through its various stages to the verdict and subsequent appeal.

My problem with this book is that it is so very factual and focused on the times that no one was in Cargate’s study, concentrating on four people that Fenby suspected had an opportunity to tamper with the snuff, and on the position of the bottle of potassium cyanide – whether it was on the desk or on the window sill. It’s clever, but it’s also repetitive and very long-winded. But, I liked the twist in the conclusion.

My thanks to the publishers, Poisoned Pen Press, for my review copy via NetGalley.

This is qualifies for the Mount TBR Challenge and for the Calendar of Crime Challenge for September in the category of the author’s birth month.

The Murder of My Aunt by Richard Hull

The Murder of My Aunt

Poisoned Pen Press|4 September 2018 |227 pages|e-book |Review copy|5*

This edition, published in association with the British Library, has an introduction by Martin Edwards. It was first published in 1934 by Hamish Hamilton. It was Richard Hull’s first novel. His real name was Richard Henry Sampson (1896 – 1973) and up until 1934 he had worked as a chartered accountant. With the success of The Murder of My Aunt he devoted himself to writing.

The Murder of My Aunt is one of the best of the classic crime fiction novels from the Golden Age that I’ve read. On the face of it has a straightforward plot as Edward Powell, the narrator for most of the book, plots to murder his Aunt Mildred. They live in a house called Brynmawr on the outskirts of the Welsh town of Llwll. Mildred is his guardian, his parents having died in mysterious circumstances when Edward was very young. He detests living in Lwll and he also detests his aunt. It’s a contest of wills as Mildred finds Edward a great trial, she sees all his faults – he is selfish, self-centred, vain and lazy and foppishly effeminate – and she constantly nags him to change his ways, or she will ‘have to take action’. Edward, though decides that he will take action, thinking his life would be so much better without Mildred and he sets out to find a way to arrange her death so that no suspicion will fall on him. He makes copious notes of various methods and the steps he plans to take and that’s more difficult than he expected as his attempts keep failing.

But it’s the writing that lifts this book from the ordinary to an original and funny murder mystery and, whilst not laugh-out-loud funny, I thought it was brilliant. It’s witty and ironic from the start as Edward pontificates on the pronunciation of the word ‘Lwll’.  Neither Edward nor Mildred come across as caricatures, but as real people, both of them with their own faults. Edward is just so insufferably awful that I felt on Mildred’s side in their battle of wits, even though she shows him up in front of the whole village – and after all she had brought him up.

Once I started to read The Murder of My Aunt I was captivated and I had to read it quickly, anxious to find out if Edward did manage to kill his aunt. It makes very entertaining reading and I loved the ending, which took me by surprise and I thought was so clever – definitely a 5* read for me!

Now I’m looking forward to reading more of  Richard Hull’s books and have Excellent Intentions lined up to read soon.

My thanks to the publishers, Poisoned Pen Press, for my review copy via NetGalley.

This is qualifies for the Mount TBR Challenge and for the Calendar of Crime Challenge for March in the category of a book in which money/fortune/inheritance has a major role.

My Friday Post: The Murder of My Aunt by Richard Hull

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 have just started to read The Murder of My Aunt by Richard Hull, a Crime Classic first published in 1934.

The Murder of My Aunt

It begins:

My aunt lives just outside the small (and entirely frightful) town of Llwll. That is exactly the trouble.

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.

Pages 55-56:

Blood is so repellent. In fact the very thought is so disturbing that I had to stop writing and read a story of de Maupassant’s to calm my nerves, before I could continue to write these notes.

~~~

Blurb

Edward Powell lives with his Aunt Mildred in the Welsh town of Llwll. His aunt thinks Llwll an idyllic place to live, but Edward loathes the countryside and thinks the company even worse. In fact, Edward has decided to murder his aunt. A darkly humorous depiction of fraught family ties, The Murder of My Aunt was first published in 1934.

This tempts me in different ways – I like the title, I like murder mysteries and I like the promise of humour. And I like the cover too.

 
What do you think? Does it tempt you or would you stop reading? 

The Division Bell Mystery by Ellen Wilkinson

Poisoned Pen Press|4 December 2018 |227 pages|e-book |Review copy|5*

This edition, published in association with the British Library, has a preface by Rachel Reeves, Member of Parliament for Leeds West and an introduction by Martin Edwards. It was first published in 1932 by George G Harrap & Co.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Division Bell Mystery – it’s entertaining on several levels both from the mystery ‘locked room’ aspect and historically, socially and culturally with its insight into how Parliament worked in the 1930s and the status of women in Parliament in the inter-war years. In fact political commentary runs throughout the novel. It was a period of great social injustice, people were still struggling in the aftermath of the Great War – a period of mass unemployment with demands for both political and social change.

Ellen Wilkinson was one of the first women Labour MPs. I’ve come across her before as a fiery politician, known as ‘Red Ellen’ both for her red hair and her left-wing politics. She supported the men from Jarrow in Tyneside in 1936 as they marched from their home town to London to present a petition against the mass unemployment and extreme poverty in the north-east of England. She marched with them for part of the way and handed in their petition to the House of Commons.

She was a keen murder mystery fan and The Division Bell Mystery is her one entry into the Golden Age Detective fiction. The classic mystery was popular in the interwar years as people entertained themselves with puzzles such as the ‘locked room’ mysteries as in this book.

The main character is the Home Secretary’s Parliamentary Private Secretary, young Robert West. As a Parliamentary Private Secretary herself, Ellen Wilkinson portrays his role and political intrigue with convincing detail. There’s a financial crisis and the Home Secretary is negotiating with the American financier Georges Oissel for a loan. The Division Bell rings – a signal to MPs to cast their votes – and West is shocked to hear a gunshot as he is making his way down the corridor leading to Room J, where the Home Secretary and Oissel had been dining. On entering the room he finds the Home Secretary has left to vote and Oissel is slumped on the floor, his shirt front stained with blood and a revolver lying beside him. No one else was in the room, no one had been seen entering or leaving the room and there is no evidence of who had killed him. It falls to West to work with the police investigating his death.

It is a nicely complicated mystery but for me it is the setting and the characters that makes this book so interesting. West is the main character but I particularly liked Grace Richards, a young female MP, based on Ellen Wilkinson herself – in her preface Rachel Reeves points out the similarities between Ellen and Grace. Once I started to read The Division Bell Mystery I didn’t want to put it down – definitely a 5* read for me!

My thanks to the publishers, Poisoned Pen Press, for my review copy via NetGalley.

The Classics Club Spin Result

Classics Club

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

9

which for me is He Who Whispers by John Dickson Carr. The rules of the Spin are that this is the book for me to read by August 31, 2018.

img_20180801_192319728

My copy is a Golden Age Mystery, one of the Green Penguin Crime and Mystery series paperbacks, published in 1953 (first published in 1946). It features Dr Gideon Fell.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

At the edge of the woods by the river stands the tower. Once part of a chateau since burnt down, only the tower remains. The inside is but a shell with a stone staircase climbing spirally up the wall to a flat stone roof with a parapet.

One that parapet the body of Howard Brooke lay bleeding. The murderer, when Brooke’s back was turned, must have drawn the sword-cane from it sheath and run him through the body. And this must have occurred between ten minutes to four and five minutes past four, when the two children discovered him dying.

Yet the evidence showed conclusively that during this time not a living soul came near him.

I’m looking forward to reading He Who Whispers as I  haven’t read any of Carr’s books before and I’m really pleased one of the crime fiction novels I listed came up in the Spin.

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

Fire in the Thatch: A Devon Mystery (British Library Crime Classics ) by E C R Lorac

A Golden Age Mystery

Poisoned Pen Press|5 June  2018 |240 pages|e-book |Review copy|4*