Posts Tagged ‘Golden Age Crime’


My second pick for the 1968 club was Agatha Christie’s By the Pricking of my Thumbs – the third of the four full length novels featuring Tommy and Tuppence. The couple also appear in a collection of short stories. Rather adorably Agatha Christie dedicated this late novel as follows;

“This book is dedicated to the many readers in this and in other countries who write to me asking: ‘What has happened to Tommy and Tuppence? What are they doing now?’ My best wishes to you all, and I hope you will enjoy meeting Tommy and Tuppence again, years older, but with spirit unquenched!”

I completely love Tommy and Tuppence though I have largely neglected these novels, I am pretty sure I had read this one before, although I had forgotten almost all of it. I read The Secret Adversary – the first Tommy and Tuppence novel four years ago, (which is when I decided I loved T&T) and I have the final Tommy and Tuppence novel – and indeed the final ever Agatha Christie novel Postern of Fate tbr – I have had a first edition of it for years! and recently bought a copy of N or M? In The Secret Adversary Tommy and Tuppence are Bright Young things – the First World War had taken its toll on both of them. I can’t think why I have never got around to reading the other Tommy and Tuppence books so far – but I will and soon, and I so wish there were more of them. By the time of the events in By the Pricking of My Thumbs Tommy and Tuppence have been married for a long time, they are the parents of two adult children, and grandparents, and of course have lived through another war. The world has changed around them, their hair is showing signs of grey, yet Tommy and Tuppence are still recognisable as the enthusiastic young detectives Agatha Christie first wrote about in 1922. As a couple the Beresfords are still every bit as adoring of one another as they ever were – one really can’t imagine one without the other. 

“I don’t particularly want to think of your funeral because I’d much prefer to die before you do. But I mean, if I were going to your funeral, at any rate it would be an orgy of grief. I should take a lot of handkerchiefs.”

Tommy’s Aunt Ada has been residing in the Sunny Ridge care home for elderly ladies for some time, and every now and then her nephew and his wife pay the dutiful visit that is required of them. Aunt Ada is not the easiest of old ladies, she has never much liked Tuppence. When Tommy decides it’s time for them to visit his aunt again, he manages to persuade Tuppence to accompany him. When the couple arrive at Sunny Ridge, Aunt Ada quickly dispenses with Tuppence who wanders off while Tommy talks to his aunt. There are old ladies shouting they are dying, others who have forgotten whether they have had their hot chocolate or not, but Miss Packard who is in charge, takes it all in her stride, laughing off all the little eccentricities of her clients. Tommy doesn’t think too much of his aunt’s mistrust of the staff, taking her whispered assertion that ‘they’ could be about to rob and murder her in her bed with a pinch of salt. While Tommy talks to Aunt Ada, Tuppence is shown into a pleasant little sitting room, where another elderly lady is already sitting close to an imposing fireplace nursing a glass of milk. Tuppence engages Mrs Lancaster in conversation, the two of them getting on quite famously. However, when Mrs Lancaster suddenly asks Tuppence –

‘Was it your poor child’

– It can’t help, but send a slight shiver down our spines. The question certainly un-nerves Tuppence – the words resonating in her memory days after having left Sunny Ridge behind. Three weeks later Aunt Ada has died, and Tommy and Tuppence are back at Sunny Ridge to clear out her things. Tuppence is eager to visit Mrs Lancaster who she met before – even more so when she learns that the very attractive painting that is hanging in Aunt Ada’s room was a recent gift from Mrs Lancaster. Tuppence is concerned that Mrs Lancaster might want the painting back, rather than it going to strangers – but Mrs Lancaster is no longer at Sunny Ridge, having been taken away by relatives to a London hotel, on the way north. Tuppence – as poor old Tommy well knows is not one to let things drop, and she is determined to track Mrs Lancaster down and ask her about the picture. The picture shows an attractive house by a canal which Tuppence is convinced she has seen before. The hotel where Mrs Lancaster and her relatives are supposed to have gone have never heard of Mrs Lancaster. Where is the old lady that Tuppence met at Sunny Ridge? Tuppence is determined to find out, so while Tommy is off at a secret conference with government/secret service types – Tuppence decides to set out on a railway journey to find the house in the painting, and find out what (if anything) has happened to Mrs Lancaster. At the back of her mind too – those strange words spoken by the old lady in the sitting room at Sunny Ridge.

As the cover to my lovely old book club edition of the novel suggests – By the Pricking of my thumbs is quite a creepy story. Tuppence gets herself into all kinds of trouble and when Tommy returns from his secret pow-wow he wonders where she has got to, and is soon on her tail.

I completely loved this Tommy and Tuppence mystery, aspects of the plot are really clever – and Christie shows her ability to write a darn good mystery with few clues to go – no body or smoking gun – just a (possible) missing woman, a few odd words spoken by a confused old lady a pretty painting and a nagging doubt. Honestly, I couldn’t put it down. I must read some more Tommy and Tuppence soon.


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strong poison

(I am amused by this vintage cover of Strong Poison – who the people in that image are supposed to be I can’t imagine.)

I really haven’t read enough Dorothy L Sayers – and yet this was a re-read – I first read it about five years ago, but it has served to remind me how I really need to read more by Sayers who was a superb writer.

“Nothing goes so well with a hot fire and buttered crumpets as a wet day without and a good dose of comfortable horrors within. The heavier the lashing of the rain and the ghastlier the details, the better the flavour seems to be.”

It is in Strong Poison that we – and indeed Lord Peter – first meet Harriet Vane, a mystery writer she remains largely in the background in this novel, really only featuring in a couple of scenes. She was to become a very important figure in many later Sayers novels. Harriet is on trial for Murder; Lord Peter in the public gallery is convinced she is innocent. Thankfully Lord Peter’s employee Miss Climpson happens to be on the jury and although not prompted by Lord Peter – she too believes the prisoner innocent. An indomitable character; Miss Climpson sticks to her guns throughout the jury deliberations and ensures that a verdict cannot be reached. The judge – who is quite obviously seriously prejudiced against Harriet; labelled an immoral woman leading a bohemian lifestyle – orders a new trial.

“ ‘What did you think of the verdict?’
The clerk pursed up his lips.
‘I don’t mind saying I was surprised. It seemed to me a very clear case. But juries are very unreliable, especially nowadays, with women on them. We see a good deal of the fair sex in this profession,’ said the clerk, with a sly smile ‘and very few of them are remarkable for possessing the legal mind.’”

Lord Peter is relieved to have time to investigate to truth of the matter, though will it be enough time? There is really very little in the way of defensive evidence. The victim; Philip Boyes was Harriet Vanes former lover, murdered by arsenical poisoning – his last meal he shared with his cousin and the servants and they suffered no ill effects. A few hours later Boyes is taken ill shortly after drinking coffee with Harriet Vane in her flat. Over the previous few months Boyes had suffered from terrible attacks of gastritis, as evidenced by a friend who he holidayed in Wales with shortly before his death. Harriet certainly had motive – Boyes is shown to have been a thorough pig, and it doesn’t help that Harriet has been buying up arsenic as part of her research for her latest book. Peter knows there are three possibilities, he was murdered by Harriet Vane – we obviously know that is not the case, he committed suicide, or was murdered by someone else. Wimsey is convinced he was murdered – and it isn’t long before he settles on a culprit – but how was the thing done?

The plot is ingenious – true it is obvious whodunit. In a way the who is less important in this novel, it is the howdunit that keeps the reader guessing. Ably assisted by his butler, the utterly marvellous Bunter and Miss Climpson and the ladies of The Cattery – a typing bureau that is really a bureau of investigation funded by Wimsey, Lord Peter sets out to prove Harriet Vane innocent. The fact that he has immediately fallen in love with her and proposes to her upon first meeting her in prison adds a little flavour of romance, and perhaps unbelievability to the story.

My very small book chose to read Strong Poison by Dorothy L Sayers in October – perhaps not the first title one might think of for a feminist book group – but we actually found lots to talk about. We considered the obvious aspects of the novel – the prejudice of society (particularly men) against Harriet Vane, as she stands accused of murdering a man she has co-habited with. Sayers however is definitely telling us something about these societal attitudes in her depiction of several minor male characters. During our group discussion on Wednesday evening we also considered the imbalance of power between Lord Peter Wimsey – who sweeps in to save the day – while Harriet is seemingly almost defenceless at the mercy of a system that is highly prejudiced – in danger of being hanged for a crime she didn’t commit. Among other things we also considered the lot of poor, middle aged women like Miss Climpson, Miss Murchison and the ladies of the Cattery and whether their dependence upon Wimsey as the source of their employment, in fact negates their apparent independence. We also talked about class, Peter is an aristocrat after all – but several friendships and romances cross the social divide – highlighting perhaps the changing times in which Sayers was writing. We all utterly adored Miss Climpson, and I think we all pretty much loved Harriet too – and wished there had been more of her in the novel.

“Philip wasn’t the sort of man to make a friend of a woman. He wanted devotion. I gave him that. I did, you know. But I couldn’t stand being made a fool of. I couldn’t stand being put on probation, like an office-boy, to see if I was good enough to be condescended to. I quite thought he was honest when he said he didn’t believe in marriage – and then it turned out that it was a test, to see whether my devotion was abject enough. Well, it wasn’t. I didn’t like having matrimony offered as a bad-conduct prize.”

I found this overall to be a thoroughly entertaining read, and for those readers new to Dorothy L Sayers it would make a pretty good one to start with, but I think I got more from it this time as a re-read than I did when I first read it. I also recommend it as a book group read – it is sometimes surprising which books make for the best discussions. The very small book club now boasts an awe-inspiring eight members! Two of those join remotely via the wonder that is Twitter– and there are now six of us who meet in person (admittedly two couldn’t make it on Wednesday). I love this group.

dorothy l sayers

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quick curtain

For several years I have had the idea that theatres are particularly good settings for murder stories. I suspect that idea was firmly planted in my mind by the Ngaio Marsh novels Opening Night and Enter a Murder. Admittedly Opening Night and Enter a Murderer may be the only murder mysteries set in the theatre that I had previously read, but still the idea persisted. So Quick Curtain has been on my radar for ages, and I was looking forward to it enormously. I was setting myself up for disappointment, really wasn’t I?

Don’t misunderstand me, I did enjoy Quick Curtain, the tone was not what I was expecting (more of that later) and at first, I was concerned that the plot seemed so obvious it is almost by the by (I should have had more faith). Still it was all very enjoyable and there is a lovely little twist (which I did eventually begin to see coming, but is non-the less brilliant). A bright, breezy, slightly tongue in cheek mystery – which I can see many people enjoying. However, if you only read one murder mystery set in a theatre make it Opening Night by Ngaio Marsh (my favourite of those two) once you have done that – if you find yourself in the mood for a second – Quick Curtain will probably do the job. (oh, yes, I know Ngaio Marsh wrote other theatre novels I just haven’t read the others).

Wikipedia describes Alan Melville as follows: an English broadcaster, writer, actor, raconteur, producer, playwright and wit. Certainly, his knowledge of the theatre and his wit is very much in evidence in his novel Quick Curtain, and it makes for a lovely quick piece of escapism. Dorothy L Sayers said of Melville that he ‘Blows the solemn structure of the detective novel sky high…’ He does do that certainly, I really hadn’t expected the light fizzing, satirical tone, but once I got used to that I began to enjoy the book more.

Douglas B Douglas is a leading light in London theatre – and a master at promotion. Such is the buzz created about his latest show, that the extravaganza Blue Music is an assured hit even before it opens. Melville gives a wonderful little glimpse of the theatre star groupies who even in 1934 it seems were apt to queue for days outside the stage door.

“Tuesday, June 18th, you will have noticed, was the great day. On Sunday, June 16th, when most of the Blue Music company were still in Manchester and finding out the truth of all those jests about the provincial Sabbath, seven grim females parked seven rickety camp stools outside the gallery entrance of the Grosvenor Theatre.
They were joined a little later in the evening by four more female and a lone male. They unpacked sandwiches and munched. They uncorked thermos flasks and drank hot coffee out of the aluminium tops of the flasks. They discussed with one another Mr. Douglas, Miss Astle, Mr. Baker, Mr. Douglas’s past successes, Miss Astle’s last divorce, Mr. Baker’s profile – both the port and the starboard view. They half slept. They suffered endless agonies on their stupid unreliable campstools; they each contracted stiff necks and shooting pains in the lower reaches of the spine; they were photographed for their pains by a man in a dirty waterproof and appeared on the back page of the Daily Post under the title ‘Gallery Enthusiasts’ three day wait for New Douglas Show’. They were still there on Tuesday morning, proudly in the van of a fair sized queue.”

The show gets under way with its two big stars Brandon Baker and Gwen Astle, and the audience are lapping it up, when Act two delivers something very unexpected. During a key moment of the action the star Brandon Baker is shot in front of a bemused audience who don’t at first realise that anything is wrong. In the audience is Inspector Wilson of Scotland Yard, and his journalist son Derek. Inspector Wilson takes charge, and during the next frantic minutes of upset and confusion another member of the cast is found dead. It seems to be a tragic case of murder followed by suicide. Though is it? It soon transpires that the gun used in the show was replaced at the last minute, and Inspector Wilson makes an interesting discovery in the proscenium.

Derek offers his services as assistant to his father – in return for the exclusive story – and so it is, that the two begin their unconventional investigations. There is a light, bantering tone between father and son, hiding a deep affection for one another, at times it is a little reminiscent of Wodehouse.

“ ‘Toss,’ said Derek. ‘It’s the only satisfactory way of settling anything in this house. Got half a crown on you?’
‘Why half a crown?’ asked Mr Wilson, producing the coin named.
‘It’s much the best coin for tossing,’ said Derek. ‘Now, listen. Heads you go to the funeral, tails I do. Heads you give me a two-column report of the farewell performance for the Gazette. Tails you give me a half page verbatim account of what happened at the inquest. Heads I tell you anything that I heard at the inquest that might be in your line. Tails I tell you if I’ve seen anyone behaving suspicious-like at the graveside. Understand?’
‘Not a word of it,’ said Mr Wilson. ‘But never mind. Toss.’

Father and son compete rather, to see who can uncover the truth. How likely it is, that a Scotland Yard Inspector would allow his journalist son to trail around after him, attending the inquest and generally snooping around, doesn’t really matter, as a duo Wilson Jnr and Snr are highly entertaining. Derek is written with a touch of real comedy. His attempts at going under cover, sending cryptic telegrams back to his father, is really very funny. I really can’t say much more about the plot without giving too much away – but the ending is very satisfactorily unexpected – though as I said I did guess part of it.

These British Library Crime Classics continue to provide wonderful Golden age escapism. I can’t help but love a world where a hapless investigator sends telegrams rather than text messages.


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I do enjoy a bit of vintage murder, as I discussed recently in a post dedicated to the genre of Golden Age Crime. Murder of a Lady, re-issued by British Library Crime Classics is a Scottish locked room mystery first published in 1931, it was the twelfth novel by Anthony Wynne to feature his amateur sleuth and physician Eustace Hailey. Anthony Wynne was a new name to me, but he was obviously very prolific, and apparently quite well known for his locked room mysteries.

The setting is Duchlan Castle in the Scottish Highlands, where the body of Mary Gregor the elder sister of the laird has been found locked in her own bedroom. Miss Gregor has been dealt a terrible blow, and despite a dreadful injury there is hardly any blood, and no weapon can be found. The door is locked from the inside, the windows barred, and, once the alarm has been raised, access to the room was achieved only with the help of a locksmith. The only clue – and it’s a strange one at that – is a tiny fish scale on the floor next to Mary’s body.

“‘This is the room; nothing but the lock of the door has been disturbed. I had a great shock myself when I entered and I would therefore prepare your mind.’
Dr Hailey inclined his head, responding to the Highlanders’s gravity with a reserve which gave nothing away. The door moved noiselessly open. He saw a woman in a white nightdress kneeling beside a bed. The room was lit by a paraffin lamp which stood on the dressing-table; the blinds were drawn. The kneeling figure at the bed had white hair which shone in the lamplight. She looked as if she was praying.”

Living in the house, is the laird; Major Hamish Gregor – known to all as Duchlan, his son Eoghan, daughter-in-law Oonagh and their young son, and four servants – two maids and two upper servants who are next to being members of the family; Christina, Eoghan’s old nurse, and Angus the piper. The laird’s wife died when Eoghan was a young child, and Mary had taken over the care of her nephew and been almost a mother to him.

Late at night on the day following Mary Gregor’s death, the Procurator Fiscal arrives at Darroch Mor, the home of Colonel John MacCallien, where Dr Eustace Hailey is a guest – with the grim news of the death of Miss Gregor. Having earned himself a reputation for helping to solve some high-profile crimes, Dr Hailey has been sought out to assist until a police man from Glasgow can attend. Dr Hailey accompanies the Procurator Fiscal to Duchlan Castle immediately to examine the scene and start talking to the dead woman’s brother.

Inspector Dundus arrives sooner than expected and reveals himself to be a serious young man, with his own way of doing things. Though perfectly cordial, he makes it quite plain that he intends to conduct the investigation himself, although he is willing for Dr Hailey to be an adviser at something of a distance. Hailey returns to Darroch Mor, happy enough to leave Dundus to his work.

Initially everyone is very quick to say how kind and respected Mary Gregor was, a charitable woman without an enemy in the world. Soon, however Inspector Dundus uncovers the reality, that Mary ruled the house with a rod of iron, her personality still pervades the house, affecting everyone who lives there. Her body shows evidence of a previous attack, perhaps many years earlier, and with it the suggestion of a family secret. Oonagh Gregor is frequently left alone by her husband who serves with the Royal Regiment of Artillery – recently returned from Malta and now undertaking special duties in Aryshire. Her relationship with her husband’s aunt is revealed to have been very difficult – and concerns over her young son’s health has obliged her to consult local physician Dr Macdonald – who has become something of a confidant and friend, none of which has gone unnoticed.

The castle grounds run down to the loch, from where local fishermen ply their trade – and the deeply superstitious locals believe that it is the ‘swimmers’ – mystical fish creatures from the loch who are responsible for the dark goings on.

“‘There’s queer stories about Loch Fyne as you may know. The fishermen tell very queer stories sometimes.’
‘So I believe.’
Mr McLeod roused himself.
‘Aye,’ he exclaimed with warmth, ‘it’s easy to say you don’t believe in old wives’ tales. But these men are shrewd observers with highly developed and trained senses. Who knows but what they may be able to see and hear and feel more than you and I could see or hear or feel? All the time they are watching the face of the water, which is the mirror of the heavens.’ ”

Mary’s death is followed by others – each just as improbable and circumstances decree that Dr Hailey is soon fully involved in the investigation. Things do get rather melodramatic, but the solution is very clever – which I hadn’t guessed at all.

Murder of a Lady is a very readable and entertaining mystery especially for fans of the locked room mystery, and I particularly enjoyed the Highland setting. Certainly, it is not the best of its type, however it has introduced me to a writer I would happily read more by.


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I know I am not the only reader/blogger for who Golden Age crime (click the link for posts tagged Golden Age Crime)  serves as a blissful escape, comfort reads, the books we reach for at times of tiredness, stress or illness. So, what on earth is it about murder? I know other readers feel just the same about modern crime fiction, though for me it is only the vintage crime novels that appeal – I rarely read modern crime. Agatha Christie was y first experience of Golden Age – and although Dorothy L Sayers and Ngaoi Marsh might be better writers it is to Dame Agatha I return most often and who I collect. cof

I read these stories throughout the year of course, but really is there anything better than to turn the lights down, draw the curtain against the dark and settle down in your favourite chair as the wind and rain hammer against the windows? Watching the bodies pile up, as Scotland yard detectives are served tea and crumpets in front of a proper fire, is certainly a wonderful escape from the modern world and all its craziness.

More than that, everything works out just perfectly – murderers are apprehended (I shudder at the capital punishment doled out occasionally) adult children who have been oppressed by overbearing ageing parents, are reborn, and sometimes the handsome detective finds romance. The only thing about these vintage stories some of us struggle with are the attitudes and language used for non-English characters. I have learned to not let it worry me too much – it serves to remind us how we have moved on, and to understand the society of the period.

I think we all know very well what to expect from our Golden age fiction, and that is probably what brings us back to it time and again. It is a world we understand. In the world of Golden Age fiction, sinister butlers shuffle towards libraries bearing trays of drinks, long lost children appear out of nowhere, as do degenerate brothers, and wicked mothers. Trains hurtle across Europe, carrying with them countesses and Lady’s Maids. Country house gatherings are interrupted by unexpected death, poison books are consulted and weapons searched for. Local police are aided by Scotland yard, gentlemen detectives and amateur sleuths. Victims so often turn out to have been almost deserving of their fate, cruel, miserly or criminal themselves – they are dispensed with creatively but without the gratuity favoured by some modern crime writers. So, in a way, even the Golden age novels we have never read before are as familiar to us when we pick them up, as the comforting stories of our childhood. Agatha Christie, was in fact one of the first adult writers I began to read when I was about eleven. I feel therefore as if I have known Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple almost my whole life – as I am perfectly happy to re-read them. Other writers I have not read as much, I love Dorothy L Sayers’s Gaudy Night – I have read it twice and will definitely read it again – and have adored other Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane novels – but there are many I haven’t read, and I have only ever read a handful of Margery Allingham. Ngaio Marsh is another favourite – I love the relationship between Chief Inspector Alleyn and Inspector Fox – one particular favourite Opening Night – set in a theatre. Surfeit of Lampreys is also excellent.

Golden Age crime seems to have enjoyed something of a resurgence in popularity in the last few years, and I am constantly discovering new writers. Of course, the superb British Library Crime Classics imprint have brought out a mountain of tempting titles by authors who in their day were hugely popular but who fell out of print. I am currently reading one of them – Murder of a Lady by Anthony Wynne – a Scottish locked room mystery set in a castle. There are just so many – I can never work out which ones I should get. I feel pretty confident that I shall never run out of comfort reads. Thanks to the BL I have discovered writers like John Bude, Freeman Wills Crofts and J. Jefferson Farjeon. I also discovered Ethel Lina White not too long ago – her books available on kindle – I found Fear Stalks the Village to be an excellent read. Winifred Peck – never really known as a crime writer – wrote a few mystery novels – and they are now re-issued by Dean Street Press. Arrest the Bishop was a good read, so I definitely want to read more.

So, if you know of any of any more obscure titles which I simply must read – let me know. I am aware that many readers are real crime aficionados, and so would welcome recommendations – though I do have some waiting to be read.

The pictured books are some of the Golden Age books in the house – some I have already read, some form part of my tbr piles.


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I always come back to Agatha Christie – it’s a world I understand, everything makes sense because it all gets tidied up so neatly. I saw this novel mentioned somewhere else recently, and I realised I couldn’t remember if I had ever read it. I own a nice first edition, with tatty dustjacket but once the fragile wrapper had been removed I was happy to read it carefully.

First published in 1963, it does feature an ageing Poirot, although he rightly gets to do the best bit (the reveal) – Poirot features much less than in earlier mysteries. Although to be fair – he is getting on a bit by 1963 – so that seems fair enough.

“To every problem, there is a most simple solution.”

It seems like a perfectly ordinary day at The Cavendish secretarial and Typewriting Bureau in Crowdean; Edna has broken the heel off her shoe, and Sheila Webb is a little late back from lunch. Upon her return Sheila is called into Miss Martindale’s office – a request has been telephoned in, for Sheila to go to Wilbraham Crescent, number 19 and if there is no one in to let herself in and wait. Slightly puzzled at the request – for she can’t remember having worked for this client before – Sheila follows the instructions exactly. Sheila finds herself in the sitting room of number 19 Wilbraham Crescent, she is not alone, behind the sofa is the body of a man. Moments later, Miss Pebmarsh arrives home, a blind, braille teacher – who later claims to have never called The Cavendish Secretarial and Typewriting Bureau. Aside from the presence of a dead body, the other notable addition to the room are four clocks – set to thirteen minutes past four.

As any self-respecting secretary would, Sheila rushes screaming from the house – straight into the arms of one Colin Lamb, a marine biologist come intelligence officer. We later learn that Colin is an old friend of Poirot’s (there is a suggestion that his father was one of the police Inspectors to benefit from the Belgian’s brilliance.) Colin was following a lead in one of his own cases, looking for a spy in hiding – when he happens upon an altogether different puzzle.

The police are soon on the scene, Detective Inspector Hardcastle in charge of what looks like a fiendishly difficult case. Hardcastle is a friend of Colin’s too – and quite happy to have him tag along as he interviews the neighbours – and attempts to identify the dead man. There are naturally, many questions. Did anyone see or hear anything? How did the body get into the house? What do the clocks mean? Why was Sheila asked for by name?

Colin quickly starts to feel very protective towards Sheila – who he feels Hardcastle is looking at suspiciously. The two are drawn to one another – and Hardcastle isn’t sure that he approves.

“I looked at her. Sheila was my girl–the girl I wanted–and wanted for keeps. But it wasn’t any use having illusions about her. Sheila was a liar and probably always would be a liar. It was her way of fighting for survival–the quick easy glib denial. It was a child’s weapon–and she’d probably never got out of using it. If I wanted Sheila, I must accept her as she was–be at hand to prop up the weak places. We’ve all got our weak places. Mine were different from Sheila’s, but they were there.”

Colin decides to pay a visit to his old friend Hercule Poirot. He remembers how Poirot once claimed that he could solve a crime, merely by sitting in his chair and giving the matter serious thought. Colin gives the details of the case to the old detective, hoping at the very least to relieve some of boredom he knows Poirot often feels. Poirot is happy to give the case his consideration, although he hasn’t been entirely idle – he has been making a detailed study of famous works of crime fiction. Having Poirot’s take on The Levenworth Case, The Mystery of the Yellow Room and Sherlock Holmes is great fun for those who like their vintage crime.

Another bookish joy I wanted to share with you is this description of a tiny cluttered bookshop.

“Inside, it was clear that the books owned the shop rather than the other way about. Everywhere they had run wild and taken possession of their habitat, breeding and multiplying and clearly lacking any strong hand to keep them down. The distance between bookshelves was so narrow that you could only get along with great difficulty. There were piles of books perched on every shelf or table. On a stool in a corner, hemmed in by books, was an old man in a pork pie hat with a large flat face like a stuffed fish. He had the air of one who has given up an unequal struggle.”

Back in Crowdean and the inquest of the dead man is opened and adjourned, within hours of the inquest however, there is another violent death – leading to more questions. Inevitably, Hardcastle’s case and Colin’s hunt for a spy look like they may be connected, and eventually someone comes forward to identify the dead man.

I really don’t want to say any more about this story – which I think is really well plotted mystery, firmly rooted in the 1960s. The solution is clever, and one can sense Poirot’s old eyes twinkling as he reveals all – a minor point: the ending is perhaps a tiny bit rushed – overall though, of course I thoroughly enjoyed it.



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12.30 from croydon

I wonder how many British Library Crime Classics there are? There appears to be millions and I am constantly worried I will miss some especially brilliant ones – as I have so many unread books already. So, I may have only read a handful of these books so far (several more tbr of course) – but this one is probably my favourite to date. I had read one Freeman Wills Crofts mystery before – The Hogs Back Mystery – which is really good, but in my opinion The 12.30 from Croydon  is far superior.

Now don’t judge me – but I am a bit of a closet Columbo fan. I don’t watch them so often these days – mainly because I have seen them all more than once, but I still love that rumpled little detective. The thing with Columbo is that the viewer always knows who the murderer is – they are often a little too sure they have committed the perfect crime. Along comes Peter Falk in his creased raincoat and pieces it all together bit by bit – he is always courteous and happily lets the criminal think him a fool. With Columbo the reader is always sure the murderer will get his/her just desserts – with this novel, however the reader can’t be quite so certain. Obviously, I’m not going to tell you either. From about the second chapter – we know who the murderer is – but there are plenty of things we don’t know. The main thing being whether they get away with it or not.

It’s never all that easy to review mystery novels – but this one is particularly difficult. Freeman Wills Crofts however is a consummate storyteller – and this novel is so compelling it is impossible not to fly through it.

“How strange it was, Charles ruminated that the useless and the obstructive so often live on, while the valuable and progressive die early!”

As the novel opens, a retired, wealthy manufacturer Andrew Crowther, his son-in-law Peter Morley and Peter’s young daughter Rose are on their way to catch the 12.30 flight from Croydon to Paris. Peter’s wife Elsie has been involved in an accident in Paris – and although not too badly hurt her family are naturally anxious to be at her side. Young Rose’s worry about her mother is over-ridden by her excitement at flying for the first time. It is also her grandfather’s first time flying – having been given permission to fly by his doctor – Andrew Crowther is travelling with his manservant Weatherup. The family enjoy a simple in-flight meal – and then prepare to land. When the plane comes to a standstill Andrew Crowther is found to be dead in his seat.

So far, so conventional, an opening reminiscent of other Golden Age mysteries – gets the story off to an excellent start. Then, in a flashback starting a few weeks before the death of Andrew Crowther, the viewpoint switches to that of his eventual murderer. Crofts allows us into the mind of a murderer, from the conception of the idea through the battle with conscience, the ingenious preparation for the murder of Andrew Crowther, the covering of the tracks and of course the eventual crime itself. Money is of course at the root of everything – isn’t it always. The financial crisis has hit some people hard, and Andrew Crowther was scathing about business failures – declaring them, the result of laziness. Charles Swinburn is now the owner of the manufacturing business his uncle built up, now Andrew Crowther is reluctant to help, sneering at his nephew for taking his eye off the ball – completely misunderstanding the reality of the financial crisis. Charles is about to go bankrupt – although he has managed to disguise from most people just how bad the situation is – and to top it all he has fallen hopelessly in love with a society beauty who will not be interested in a poor man.

“Here was Andrew Crowther, a man whose existence was a misery to himself and a nuisance to all around him. Why should he be spared and others who were doing great work in the world be cut off in their prime? It didn’t somehow seem right. For the sake of himself and everyone else it would be better if Andrew were to die.”

Then comes the terrible fear of detection – so sure that they’ve thought of everything, that nothing can betray them – and yet what if… Murder isn’t easy to live with. There is an inquest to sit through, a will to be read, equanimity to be preserved. There are several unexpected shocks along the way – and naturally, policemen asking questions. Another murder proves necessary, the grizzly business carried out and dealt with – and suspicion seems to be falling on someone else entirely – could the wrong man be about to pay for Andrew Crowther’s murder?

Unlike most Golden Age mysteries, the policemen are not at the centre of the story – in fact they operate rather more off stage. Inspector Joseph French of Scotland Yard is eventually brought in, when dissatisfaction with the inquest is expressed – and he quietly, and unobtrusively goes about his business.

It is the psychology of the criminal which is so well done here I thought – the self-delusion as well as self-justification, paranoia and simple connivance which drives the narrative and makes it so readable.


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