The Christmas Card Crime and Other Stories edited by Martin Edwards (British Library Crime Classics)

Here is another collection of short stories from the Golden Age of Murder edited by Martin Edwards: The Christmas Card Crime and Other Stories.

Christmas Card Crime

Poisoned Pen Press, in association with the British Library|1 October 2019|Print length 240 pages|e-book |Review copy|4*

There are eleven stories all set during the Christmas season in this collection and an introduction by Martin Edwards. In it he points out the differences between a short story and a novel. It’s not just the length, but it is also the fact that in a short story there is little space to develop the characters in depth or for lengthy descriptions, so ‘every word must be made to earn its keep‘. He has also prefaced each story with a biographical note, which I found useful as some of the authors were new to me.

The mysteries range in date of publication from 1909 up to 1965. I’ve read stories by some of the authors before, such as Baroness Orczy, John Dixon Carr, Ronald Knox, E C R Lorac, John Bude and Julian Symons, but others were new to me. The ones I enjoyed the most are:

The Motive  Ronald Knox. This story first appeared in The London Illustrated News in November 1937 and is about an attempted murder in a smart hotel on the English Riviera, by a character named ‘Westmacott’ (a pen name used by Agatha Christie).. On Christmas Day after a party the guests decided to play a version of ‘blind man’s buff’ in the swimming pool, which didn’t go as planned.

Another version of ‘blind man’s buff‘, this time called ‘blind man’s bluff‘, is played in the next story also with disastrous consequences.

Blind Man’s Hood by John Dickson Carr writing as Carter Dickson. This first appeared in the Christmas edition of The Sketch in 1937 and is a story inspired by the unsolved Peasonhall murder case of 1902. It is a strange tale about a young couple arriving to spend Christmas with friends, only to find the house empty – except that is for a young woman carrying a white bag, who tells them about a game of ‘Blind Man’s Bluff’ that went very wrong, years ago. It’s a variation on a locked room mystery, with a touch of the supernatural.

Crime at Lark Cottage by John Bingham – this first appeared in the 1954 Christmas Number of The London Illustrated News. Bingham was the 7th Earl of Clanmorris, a journalist who was recruited into MI5, where he worked with David Cornwell, who later wrote spy novels under the name of John Le Carré. This story and the next are my two favourites in the book. It is the story of an escaped convict and an isolated country cottage occupied by a young woman and her little daughter one snowy Christmas. Very atmospheric and tense with an unexpected ending. I’d like to read more of John Bingham’s work.

‘Twixt the Cup and the Lip by Julian Symons – this first appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine in January 1965). Longer than the other stories in this collection it is the tale of Mr Rossiter Payne, a meticulous bookseller who plans a perfect robbery – to steal the jewels, that had once belonged to the Russian royal family, on display in a London department store at Christmas. But Mr Payne had made an uncharacteristic error …

Overall, I enjoyed reading this collection, with a mix of excellent short stories and some that I thought  were too short and had disappointing or predictable endings.

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

Gallows Court by Martin Edwards

Gallows Court by Martin Edwards has been on my radar since it was published last year. And I’ve read plenty of reviews full of praise for it, so my  expectations were high as I began reading, especially as I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of his other books that I’ve read, particularly his Lake District murder mysteries. Gallows Court, set in 1930s London, is a change of direction for Martin Edwards, born out of his fascination with that period in history and his love of Golden Age detective fiction. It is the first in a series; the next book, due out in March next year, is to be Mortmain Hall, a sequel to Gallows Court. 

Gallows Court

Blurb (Amazon):

London, 1930.
A headless corpse; an apparent suicide in a locked room; a man burned alive during an illusionist’s show in front of thousands of people. Scotland Yard is baffled by the sequence of ghastly murders unfolding across the city and at the centre of it all is mysterious heiress Rachel Savernake. Daughter of a grand judge, Rachel is as glamorous as she is elusive.

Jacob Flint, a tenacious young journalist eager to cover the gruesome crimes, is drawn into Rachel’s glittering world of wealth and power. But as the body count continues to rise, Jacob is convinced Rachel is harbouring a dark secret and he soon becomes part of a dangerous game that could leave him dancing at the end of the hangman’s rope if he pursues the truth.

My thoughts:

I think this must be the twistiest book I’ve read – there are twists and turns galore, my head was spinning as I read the first 100 pages. I had to stop when I realised that apart from Rachel and Jacob I had little idea of who anybody was, what they were doing and how they interacted. There are so many characters and the story is told in short sections moving rapidly from scene to scene and from one viewpoint to another. I had to go right back to the beginning – start again and this time concentrate much more on who was who and what they were up to.

Jacob Flint is constant throughout, but Rachel Savernack is not. I was never sure about her, what to think of her, or who she really was because it’s obvious that there is more to her than first meets the eye. The pressure never lets up – there is always tension and suspicion about who is telling the truth, and who is not who they appear to be. You just cannot believe anything as it’s full of illusions and tricks to baffle and mislead. Towards the end the fog lifted and I began to suspect the truth. It is certainly a challenging book and if you enjoy an intricately plotted murder mystery with plenty of suspense and intrigue then this is the book for you.

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Head of Zeus (6 Sept. 2018)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1788546075
  • ISBN-13: 978-1788546072
  • Source: Library book
  • Martin Edwards website.
  • My rating: 4*

Reading challenge: The Virtual Mount TBR

My Friday Post: Gallows Court by Martin Edwards

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’ve just started Gallows Court by Martin Edwards, the first in a series set in 1930s London.

Gallows Court

‘Jacob Flint is watching the house again.’ The housekeeper’s voice rose. ‘Do you think he knows about …?’

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:

‘I told you last night not to threaten me, Mr Flint. You should heed my advice. There are worse fates than the misfortune that befell Thomas Betts.’

Blurb:

London, 1930.
A headless corpse; an apparent suicide in a locked room; a man burned alive during an illusionist’s show in front of thousands of people. Scotland Yard is baffled by the sequence of ghastly murders unfolding across the city and at the centre of it all is mysterious heiress Rachel Savernake. Daughter of a grand judge, Rachel is as glamorous as she is elusive.

Jacob Flint, a tenacious young journalist eager to cover the gruesome crimes, is drawn into Rachel’s glittering world of wealth and power. But as the body count continues to rise, Jacob is convinced Rachel is harbouring a dark secret and he soon becomes part of a dangerous game that could leave him dancing at the end of the hangman’s rope if he pursues the truth.

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

I have high expectations of this book as I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of Martin Edwards’s books that I’ve read, particularly his Lake District murder mysteries. Gallows Court has been on my radar since it was published last year so it’s time I read it, especially as now I see that his next book, due out in March next year, is to be Mortmain Hall, a sequel to Gallows Court. 

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*

Foreign Bodies (British Library Crime Classics) edited by Martin Edwards

Poisoned Pen Press|6 March  2018 |288 pages|e-book |Review copy|3*

This edition, published in association with the British Library, has an introduction by Martin Edwards.

There are fifteen stories in this collection of vintage crime fiction in translation,  written by authors from Hungary, Japan, Denmark, India, Germany, Mexico, Belgium, the Netherlands, Russia and France. Some are detective stories in the same tradition of  Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, or in the same style as Agatha Christie; there are ‘locked room’ mysteries and stories mixing mystery and horror. Martin Edwards has prefaced each one with a brief biographical note, which I found useful as, unsurprisingly, the authors were all new to me, with the exception of Anton Chekhov (although I haven’t read any of his works).

Edwards presents the stories in approximately the chronological order of their publication from 1883 to 1960 and notes that these authors were writing in the same styles at much the same time as Agatha Christie and other Golden Age crime fiction writers.

When I began reading I was disappointed as I didn’t enjoy the first few stories. Short story collections are often a mixed bag and some stories are better than others, so after putting the book aside for a while I carried on reading. Some are very short and are predictable and really easy to see where they will end, but others are much more satisfying.

The ones that appealed to me the most are (in the order I read them):

The Spider (1930) by Koga Saburo who founded the Mystery Writers of Japan in 1947. His work was very popular in Japan and he wrote in the traditionalist style, favouring the puzzle element of a mystery. Edwards writes that it ‘is a pleasing fusion of macabre fiction and the classic detective puzzle‘, which explains why I like it. It’s set in a bizarre laboratory in a nine metre high round tower in which a professor is carrying out research on spiders. One night another professor visited him and fell to his death from the tower having been bitten by a poisonous spider. The circumstances of his death, however are not at all straightforward and are most ingenious. Probably my favourite story.

Murder a la Carte (1931) by Jean-Toussaint Samat, born in the Camargue, a journalist and writer of crime and adventure novels. This story is about a case of poisoning, but poisoning with a difference. A guest at a dinner party explains how to get away with murder – by using a non-poisonous substance. It’s one of the shorter stories that I did find satisfying.

The Venom of the Tarantula (1933) by Sharadindu Bandyopadhya from Bengal, educated in Calcutta, whose crime writing is similar to that of Arthur Conan Doyle. A writer called Ajit  and detective Byomkesh Bakshi join forces to investigate what is an apparently ‘impossible crime’ featuring an ingenious poisoning.  Nandadulalbabu is a hypochondriac who is writing fiction using black and red ink. He is addicted to venomous ‘spider juice’, extracted from tarantulas. His family have prevented him from getting the juice but somehow he is able to trick them and is still  getting his fix. Although I was able to work out the solution it’s still a satisfying and interesting story.

The Mystery of the Green Room (1936) by Pierre Véry from France. This story is dedicated to the memory of Gaston Leroux, and plays on the events in his story, The Mystery of the Yellow Room (1907), which I haven’t readanother ‘locked room’ whodunnit.  I enjoyed this one , particularly where the private investigator points out to the detective the similarities between the yellow room mystery to this one, the green room mystery – this is an ‘open-room’ mystery as opposed to a ‘locked-room’ puzzle.

John Flanders, born in Ghent was one of the pen-names of Jean-Raymond-Marie De Kremer. He wrote imaginative and fantastical stories and Kippers, originally written in Flemish is one of his many short stories. It’s one of the shortest stories in the book and entertained me in a very different way – it is not a puzzle or even really a mystery story, but is focused on one of Flanders’ fictional preoccupations with food and drink and as the title indicates it is a story about

Kippers, delectable, salmony kippers, smoky as a chimney, dripping with fat, one for each of us, of course, the real thing.

Even Bertie the cabin boy got one.

A sinister tale about a shipwrecked crew on a desert island that ends in horror.

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

Miraculous Mysteries: Locked Room Mysteries and Impossible Crimes edited by Martin Edwards

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: Miraculous Mysteries: Locked Room Mysteries and Impossible Crimes. Some stories, of course, are better than others.

These are the sixteen stories in the collection. Martin Edwards has prefaced each one with a brief biographical note, which I found useful as some of the authors were new to me. I read the collection slowly, which I find is the best way to approach a short story collection.

  • The Lost Special by Arthur Conan Doyle (not a Sherlock Holmes/Dr. Watson story) about a train that disappears on its route from Liverpool to London. This was first published in The Strand Magazine in 1898.
  • The Thing Invisible by William Hope Hodgson, an author I hadn’t come across before. First published in 1913 this is a murder mystery dressed up as a ‘ghost’ story. Very atmospheric.
  • The Case of the Tragedies in the Greek Room by Sax Rohmer, another new-to-me author, although I had heard of his most well known character, the master criminal Dr Fu Manchu. In this story amateur detective Moris Klaw  and his beautiful daughter investigate a locked room murder in a museum, involving ‘psychic photographs’.
  • The Aluminum Dagger by Richard Austin Freeman, featuring one of Dr. John Thorndyke’s scientific stories, describing in detail how a man was discovered in a locked room, stabbed to death.
  • The Miracle of Moon Crescent by G. K. Chesterton, a Father Brown story set in America, in which the cleric investigates a death by a curse.
  • The Invisible Weapon by Nicholas Olde, an impossible murder mystery, in which there is only one man who could have done it – and he could not have done it.
  • The Diary of Death by Marten Cumberland – an impossible crime, a kind of chess problem. Lilian Hope’s diary provides a list of victims -people she had hated.
  • The Broadcast Murder by Grenville Robbins, in which a murder takes place in a radio station and is broadcast has it happens.
  • The Music-Room by Sapper (not a Bulldog Drummond story), featuring a secret passage and a falling chandelier.
  • Death at 8:30 by Christopher St. John Sprigg, in which a murderer predicts the date and exact time of the death of the victim unless a ransom is paid.
  • Too Clever By Half by G. D. H. and Margaret Cole – Dr Tancred’s advice, if you intend to commit a murder, is don’t make the mistake of trying to be clever!
  • Locked In by E. Charles Vivian – a death by shooting in a locked room.
  • The Haunted Policeman by Dorothy L. Sayers (a Lord Peter Wimsey story) – probably my favourite in the collection. It had me completely mystified. The policeman is new to the beat and can’t believe his eyes.
  • The Sands of Thyme by Michael Innes (a John Appleby story) murder at Thyme Bay, or was it suicide? Footprints in the sand provide a clue.
  • Beware of the Trains by Edmund Crispin (a Gervase Fen story), a clever and baffling story about a lost train driver.
  • The Villa Marie Celeste by Margery Allingham (an Albert Campion and Inspector Luke story) – another favourite, in which a young couple disappear, leaving behind their half-eaten breakfast, taking only a couple of clean linen sheets. There was no clue why they left and no signs of any violence.

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

The Golden Age of Murder by Martin Edwards

Although I read a lot of crime fiction my knowledge of the authors and their books written during the ‘Golden Age’ so far has been limited to Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, Margery Allingham, and Michael Innes so when I saw that Martin Edwards had written The Golden Age of Murder: The Mystery of the Writers Who Invented the Modern Detective Story I thought it would be the ideal book to find out more. And I was absolutely right and the works of a whole host of authors has been opened up to me.

This is the story of the writers who formed the Detection Club between the two World Wars. Edwards sets the authors and their works in context – that period when Britain was recovering from the horrors of the First World War, living through an age of austerity as unemployment grew, the cost of living soared leading to the General Strike whilst the rich partied and saw the beginnings of the end of the British Empire. But the writers and the works although well grounded in their own time and culture have a lasting appeal and influence on current story telling and film and television.

The Club grew out of the dinners Anthony Berkeley and his wife Peggy hosted at their home in the late 1920s, attended by people including Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, Douglas and Margaret Cole, Ronald Knox, Henry Wade, H C Bailey and John Rhode. Eventually the Club was formed, with Rules and a Constitution and a Committee. The members benefited in various ways, meeting fellow detective novelists, discussing ideas, supporting each other and even working together on collaborative writing projects – such as The Floating Admiral, in which a dozen writers each wrote one chapter. The main aim of the Club was to encourage and maintain a high standard of work in writing detective novels.

I was fascinated by the number of real crimes that influenced the writers, both current at the time and crimes from the past. Their interest as they discussed these cases, such as Dr Crippen’s poisoning of his wife, in turn inspired them not only to write but also to play the detective themselves. Indeed, Edwards shows that the image of the Golden Age as ‘cosy’ murder mysteries is false:

Their novels are often sneered at as ‘cosy’, and the claim that their characters were made from cardboard has become a lazy critical cliché. The very idea that detective fiction between the wars represented a ‘Golden Age’ seems like a misty-eyed nostalgia of an aged romantic hankering after a past that never existed.

The best detective novels of the Thirties

were exhilarating, innovative and unforgettable. They explored miscarriages of justice, forensic pathology and serial killings long before these topics became fashionable (and before the term’serial killer’ was invented). …

The climax of one of Berkeley’s novels was so shocking that when Alfred Hitchcock came to film it, even the legendary master of suspense, the man who would direct Psycho, lost his nerve. He substituted a final scene that was a feeble cop-out in comparison to Berkeley’s dark and horrific vision. (page 9)

There is no way I can do justice to this book in a short post; it is simply a tour de force, comprehensive, crammed full of fascinating information about the period and the authors.

Martin Edwards’ love of Golden Age fiction shines throughout the book, (skilfully writing about books without giving away any spoilers) and has spurred me on to read more books from this period.