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A review

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  • William F. Deeck
    A review from back in the days when I was writing them. This one originally appeared in THE MYSTERY FANCIER. If there is any interest in additional reprinted
    Message 1 of 16 , Sep 4, 2001
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      A review from back in the days when I was writing them. This one originally
      appeared in THE MYSTERY FANCIER. If there is any interest in additional
      reprinted reviews, let me know and I will post one occasionally. I should
      warn, as I did in an issue of TMF:

      "There are those who charge that I recklessly rummage round the rubbish
      receptacles (Forgive me; I have had occasion to read a novel, thankfully a
      nonmystery, by Amanda Ros, whose prose is chockfull of such alliteration,
      and I probably shall never recover) of mysterydom and resurrect the
      deservedly obscure and occasionally downright embarrassing. Nolo contendere
      is how I plead to that charge."

      Francis D. Grierson. THE SMILING DEATH. (U.S.: Clode, 1927; U.K.: Bles,
      1927; Chevron Books, n.d.)

      Several times in this novel Inspector Sims and undercover criminologist
      Professor Wells note that coincidence is not remarkable. I concur. Thus I am
      not going to express astonishment because the two amateur investigators
      discover a corpse near a police station Inspector Sims and Professor wells
      happen to be visiting. Or because one of the amateurs falls in love at first
      sight with a passing horror-stricken face, a face that turns out to belong
      to the villain's ward. Or because the other amateur falls in love at first
      sight with a girl in the street-in, mind you, not of; please pay attention
      even if it's not rewarding-whose father was ruined by the villain and whose
      restaurant is located in the house previously occupied by the recently
      discovered dead man. Or because one of the villain's henchmen had his life
      saved during World War I by one of the amateurs. Or because-I could go on,
      but I guess you're convinced by now of my tolerance.

      Since this is a thriller and the author early on discloses the villain's
      identity, I take leave to quote:

      "One may suspect a clergyman of embezzlement, an actuary of cheating at
      cards, a retired admiral of stealing his neighbour's bulbs in the dead of
      night-but about the trade of a bookseller there is something of the
      venerable dignity of the first editions he handles, a certain abstraction
      from the affairs of a hurried world, an innocence in all matters not
      connected with vellum, calf, fair paper and the variations of type. In all
      his experience, Sims reflected sardonically, he had never arrested a
      bookseller."

      This bookseller villain-did some dastard mutter that that's an oxymoron?-is
      another Moriarty, without the latter's vast legions but with the same
      problem of ineptness and ingratitude on the part of his few minions.

      For those of you who, like me, always wondered what booksellers buy one half
      so precious as the stuff they sell, it has been revealed here in a novel
      slightly above Edgar Wallace's average, with more and better humor than
      Wallace usually provided.
    • Nicholas Fuller
      Various reviews of various detective stories by sundry hands.  I have
      Message 2 of 16 , Jul 1, 2002
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        <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
        face="Times New Roman" size=3>Various reviews of
        various detective stories by sundry hands.  I
        have returned to the shorter review form; hopefully
        these will be terser and more to the point than
        previous reviews.</FONT></P>
        <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
        face="Times New Roman" size=3></FONT> </P>
        <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
        face="Times New Roman" size=3>THE CHINA GOVERNESS<SPAN
        style="mso-tab-count:
        1">           
        </SPAN>[Margery Allingham, 1963; Band 4:]</FONT></P>
        <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt;
        TEXT-INDENT: 36pt"><FONT face="Times New Roman"
        size=3>Although very late Allingham, the story is as
        well-written as ever, with its Dickensian atmosphere,
        plot and characters.<SPAN style="mso-spacerun:
        yes">  </SPAN>The plot is complex (and rather
        disjointed, for the two halves of the story are only
        tenuously linked), involving the vice and poverty of
        the Turk Street Mile, Timothy Kinnit’s search for both
        his father and, by extension, himself, a juvenile
        delinquent (and atheist?) desperate for an identity
        yet proud of his independence, and a long-buried
        Victorian sandal.<SPAN style="mso-spacerun:
        yes">  </SPAN>The book features several of those
        sharply drawn portraits in which the author excels,
        notably the Kinnits, who <I>“don’t keep helping folk
        for the warm silly reason that they like the people
        concerned, but for the cold practical one that they
        hope to see themselves as nice people doing kind
        things”</I>, the childishly innocent Nanny Broome, the
        guilt-wracked idealist Cornish, and the spiteful Basil
        Toberman.<SPAN style="mso-spacerun: yes"> 
        </SPAN>Despite the presence of both Superintendent
        Luke and Albert Campion (an onlooker so sober and
        subdued as to be virtually colourless), there is
        little detection, rather a constant unfolding of
        plot.<SPAN style="mso-spacerun: yes">  </SPAN>The
        solution to the mystery is clever (although Miss
        Saxon’s behaviour never convinces); an alert reader
        will, however, suspect the villain but not the motive
        (revealed by Mr. Campion).</FONT></P>
        <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
        size=3><FONT face="Times New
        Roman"> <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns =
        "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office"
        /><o:p></o:p></FONT></FONT></P>
        <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
        size=3><FONT face="Times New
        Roman"> <o:p></o:p></FONT></FONT></P>
        <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
        face="Times New Roman" size=3>THE LIFE SENTENCE<SPAN
        style="mso-tab-count:
        1">           
        </SPAN>[H.C. Bailey, 1946; Band 3:]</FONT></P>
        <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt;
        TEXT-INDENT: 36pt"><FONT size=3><FONT face="Times New
        Roman"><I>“Although purporting to be an early exploit
        of Reggie Fortune’s”</I> (i.e. written in sentences
        and without professional crime, although the usual
        horrible ‘dialogue’ between lovers is present), there
        is very little interest to be found in what is
        essentially a greatly expanded short story, padded to
        the gills with analysis of the events from all
        angles.<SPAN style="mso-spacerun: yes"> 
        </SPAN>Rosalind Bruce’s split personality and fear of
        fog are as uninteresting as the murder of her
        grandfather in Massingham, the slow but steady
        detection (Reggie does not shine), and the solution to
        the case (despite a twist which partially redeems a
        lifeless tale).</FONT></FONT></P>
        <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
        size=3><FONT face="Times New
        Roman"> <o:p></o:p></FONT></FONT></P>
        <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
        size=3><FONT face="Times New
        Roman"> <o:p></o:p></FONT></FONT></P>
        <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
        face="Times New Roman" size=3>THE FOUR FALSE
        WEAPONS<SPAN style="mso-tab-count:
        1">           
        </SPAN>[John Dickson Carr, 1937; Band 4:]</FONT></P>
        <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt;
        TEXT-INDENT: 36pt"><FONT face="Times New Roman"
        size=3>A good solid mystifying problem.<SPAN
        style="mso-spacerun: yes">  </SPAN>Henri
        Bencolin, mellowed since his retirement and hence more
        believable than the tiresomely theatrical puppet of
        earlier books, does a good logical job of clearing the
        play-boy from suspicion of having murdered his
        poule-de-luxe (murdered, it later transpires, in a
        particularly ingenious way).<SPAN style="mso-spacerun:
        yes">  </SPAN>The book’s theme is the triumph of
        common sense over science: none of the physical clues
        (sleeping pills, fingerprints, an electric clock,
        champagne, and the four false weapons themselves) are
        to be trusted, and the ingenious theories of Auguste
        Dupin, criminologist of L’Intelligence, which rely
        heavily upon physical clues, are invariably
        wrong.<SPAN style="mso-spacerun: yes"> 
        </SPAN>Ironically, the book is in the tradition of R.
        Austin Freeman, who wrote several scientific satires
        (e.g. <I>The Red Thumb Mark</I>).<SPAN
        style="mso-spacerun: yes">  </SPAN>The book’s
        principal flaw is its over-reliance on <I>“the innate
        perverseness of all human events”</I>; and, although
        the solution is logical and impeccably fair, the
        murderer’s character and relationship with his victim
        are not sufficiently built up to make the motive
        convincing.</FONT></P>
        <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
        size=3><FONT face="Times New
        Roman"> <o:p></o:p></FONT></FONT></P>
        <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
        size=3><FONT face="Times New
        Roman"> <o:p></o:p></FONT></FONT></P>
        <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
        face="Times New Roman" size=3>THE DEVIL IN VELVET<SPAN
        style="mso-tab-count:
        1">           
        </SPAN>[John Dickson Carr, 1937; Band 5:]</FONT></P>
        <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt;
        TEXT-INDENT: 36pt"><FONT size=3><FONT face="Times New
        Roman">The author himself considered this to be his
        “single finest piece of historical fiction”—and he
        will find few who disagree, for it is compulsively
        readable, and despite its length (330 closely-printed
        pages), completely devoid of padding.<SPAN
        style="mso-spacerun: yes">  </SPAN>Professor
        Nicholas Fenton sells his soul in order to travel back
        to 1675, where he inherits the body of the unpleasant
        Sir Nicholas Fenton (no relation), in an attempt to
        prevent the murder of Lydia Fenton by poisoning, and
        thereby undo the course of history (which leads him to
        blurt out things better left unsaid).<SPAN
        style="mso-spacerun: yes">  </SPAN>This ingenious
        and tense situation is described with such skill and
        delicacy as to prove those who accuse Carr of writing
        artificial and mechanical puzzles wrong, for this is a
        remarkably human book, Carr’s considerable talent
        shining as never before, especially in the characters
        of Fenton, Lydia, and her cousin Meg York.<SPAN
        style="mso-spacerun: yes">  </SPAN>Restoration
        London is brought vividly to life, and with it such
        illustrious personages as Charles II, Nell Gwynn, and
        Lord Shaftesbury of the Green Ribbon Club, which soon
        establishes itself as a threat.<SPAN
        style="mso-spacerun: yes">  </SPAN>With Fenton
        facing danger from four fronts, having to prevent Lady
        Fenton’s murder, his murder at the head of the
        Cromwellites, the devil from gaining possession of his
        soul, and Sir Nick Fenton from gaining possession of
        his body, there is plenty of action and danger.<SPAN
        style="mso-spacerun: yes">  </SPAN>This is
        perhaps Carr’s most violent book, with swordplay in
        Dead Man’s Lane, battles in Pall Mall, and a final
        thrilling duel at the Tower of London, all of which
        show the influence of Alexandre Dumas.<SPAN
        style="mso-spacerun: yes">  </SPAN>If anything
        suffers, it is detection, for this is predominantly a
        novel of action.<SPAN style="mso-spacerun: yes"> 
        </SPAN>Yet Carr produces a genuinely surprising
        solution, as satisfying as that of <I>The Crooked
        Hinge</I><SPAN style="mso-bidi-font-style:
        italic">—and follows it up with an ending equally
        unsatisfactory.<o:p></o:p></SPAN></FONT></FONT></P>
        <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN
        style="mso-bidi-font-style: italic"><FONT size=3><FONT
        face="Times New
        Roman"> <o:p></o:p></FONT></FONT></SPAN></P>
        <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN
        style="mso-bidi-font-style: italic"><FONT size=3><FONT
        face="Times New
        Roman"> <o:p></o:p></FONT></FONT></SPAN></P>
        <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
        face="Times New Roman" size=3>THE MAN IN THE BROWN
        SUIT<SPAN style="mso-tab-count: 1">   
        </SPAN>[Agatha Christie, 1924; Band 3:]</FONT></P>
        <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt;
        TEXT-INDENT: 36pt"><FONT face="Times New Roman"
        size=3>One of Christie’s earliest books—a
        tongue-in-cheek treatment of “The Perils of Pamela”,
        or, rather, of Anne Beddingfeld (alias Anne the
        adventuress), the attractive (but impoverished)
        heroine who tells of her involvement in international
        crime (i.e., diamond robbery, gun-running, and
        political agitation, all impossible to take seriously
        for an instant).<SPAN style="mso-spacerun: yes"> 
        </SPAN>She travels to South Africa to unmask ‘the
        Colonel’, one of those master criminals so popular
        then who <I>“has organised crime as another man might
        organise a boot factory”</I> (and who reappears in
        <I>Death on the Nile</I>) and ends up falling in love
        with one of those <I>“stern silent Rhodesians … strong
        silent men who always ‘felled their opponent with a
        single blow’”</I> suspected of strangling the Russian
        dancer in the country house of Sir Eustace
        Pedler.<SPAN style="mso-spacerun: yes"> 
        </SPAN>His account of the voyage is very funny
        (although unfair on at least three occasions, a
        mistake she would not make with <I>The Murder of Roger
        Ackroyd</I>).</FONT></P>
        <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt;
        TEXT-INDENT: 36pt"><FONT size=3><FONT face="Times New
        Roman"> <o:p></o:p></FONT></FONT></P>
        <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt;
        TEXT-INDENT: 36pt"><FONT size=3><FONT face="Times New
        Roman"> <o:p></o:p></FONT></FONT></P>
        <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
        face="Times New Roman" size=3>THE A.B.C. MURDERS<SPAN
        style="mso-tab-count:
        1">           
        </SPAN>[Agatha Christie, 1935; Band 5]:</FONT></P>
        <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt;
        TEXT-INDENT: 36pt"><FONT face="Times New Roman"
        size=3>One of Christie’s great triumphs—an original
        plot, a masterpiece of telling the truth and making it
        lie, and a successful application of Anthony
        Berkeley’s favourite gambit (similarities to <I>The
        Silk Stocking Murders</I> and to Chesterton’s <I>“The
        Sign of the Broken Sword”</I> are obvious—comparisons,
        however, are not only obvious but odious).<SPAN
        style="mso-spacerun: yes">  </SPAN>Poirot is in
        magnificent form, showing <I>“real genius in the way
        he tackled a problem entirely unlike any which had
        previously come his way”</I>.<SPAN
        style="mso-spacerun: yes">  </SPAN>With the
        (limited) assistance of Captain Hastings and of the
        victims’ relatives, and spurred on by rivalry with
        Inspector Crome, he investigates a series of seemingly
        random murders across England and in various social
        milieux (working-class Andover, middle-class
        Bexhill-on-Sea, squirearchical Churston), linked only
        by the presence of the <I>A.B.C. Guide</I> and of the
        sinister Mr. Cust.<SPAN style="mso-spacerun:
        yes">  </SPAN>The grisly series comes to its
        close in the melting-pot of Doncaster.<SPAN
        style="mso-spacerun: yes">  </SPAN>Perplexed,
        however, by the fact that Cust is <I>“stupid and
        cunning, ruthless and magnanimous” </I>and lacks a
        logical motive, and by his possession of a cast-iron
        alibi, Poirot reasons from psychological clues (what
        people read, the haphazard nature of the crimes) to
        produce a psychological profile of the killer, which
        he proves with physical clues (the letters—a classic
        example of presenting the clues in a different
        light).</FONT></P>
        <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt;
        TEXT-INDENT: 36pt"><FONT size=3><FONT face="Times New
        Roman"> <o:p></o:p></FONT></FONT></P>
        <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt;
        TEXT-INDENT: 36pt"><FONT size=3><FONT face="Times New
        Roman"> <o:p></o:p></FONT></FONT></P>
        <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
        face="Times New Roman" size=3>THE PALE HORSE<SPAN
        style="mso-tab-count:
        1">           
        </SPAN>[Agatha Christie, 1961; Band 5:]</FONT></P>
        <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt;
        TEXT-INDENT: 36pt"><FONT face="Times New Roman"
        size=3>At once stylish and sinister, this convincingly
        handled tale of murder-by-witchcraft-for-sale,
        <I>“murder as </I>business<I>—murder that takes no
        account of who or what the victim may be”</I>, is
        Christie’s last triumph.<SPAN style="mso-spacerun:
        yes">  </SPAN>The story begins with the murder of
        a man of God by the forces of evil (a dominant theme
        in the novel), returning from the death-bed confession
        of Mrs. Davis, <I>“knowing herself to be dying, and
        wanting to make her peace with heaven”</I>.<SPAN
        style="mso-spacerun: yes">  </SPAN>The list of
        names found on Father Gorman’s body suggests murder on
        a grand scale—operated, it soon becomes clear, by
        three witches who kill by operating on the death-wish
        (the play with morbid psychology is unusual for
        Christie); the séance ranks with that in <I>The
        Worsted Viper</I> (Gladys Mitchell, 1943), made worse
        by the horrible common sense of Thyrza Grey.<SPAN
        style="mso-spacerun: yes">  </SPAN>Characters,
        including the vulpine cripple Venables (the use of the
        invalid in the wheel-chair is superb both as red
        herring and as double-edged clue), the oleaginous Mr.
        Bradley, and the insignificant chemist Zachariah
        Osborne, are vivid and unusual, and it will be an
        alert reader who spots the identity of the villain,
        <I>“someone who wants to be important, but who never
        will be important, because he’ll always be less than a
        man”</I>, before the professional Lejeune; and the
        brilliant method (showing the author’s medical
        training) before the amateur Mark
        Easterbrook.</FONT></P>
        <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
        size=3><FONT face="Times New
        Roman"> <o:p></o:p></FONT></FONT></P>
        <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
        size=3><FONT face="Times New
        Roman"> <o:p></o:p></FONT></FONT></P>
        <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
        face="Times New Roman" size=3>THE MIRROR CRACK’D FROM
        SIDE TO SIDE<SPAN style="mso-tab-count:
        1">           
        </SPAN>[Agatha Christie, 1962; Band 4:]</FONT></P>
        <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt;
        TEXT-INDENT: 36pt"><FONT face="Times New Roman"
        size=3>A rather alien note is struck in Miss Marple’s
        village of St. Mary Mead both by the modern
        Development and by the presence of the entourage of
        drug-addicted and neurotic Hollywood expats (based,
        one may ask, on what experience?) surrounding the
        glamorous Marina Gregg, arguably as batty as any of
        them—not without reason, however, since it soon
        becomes clear that the poison that killed the St.
        John’s Ambulance secretary was intended for her.<SPAN
        style="mso-spacerun: yes">  </SPAN>Despite
        excessive coincidence in the form of Miss G.’s
        husbands and adopted children, the plotting is tight
        without dithering or digressions; and Miss Marple,
        with the Waghorn-esque assistance of D.I. Craddock,
        does a good job of working out the motive, the secret
        of which is better kept than that of the murderer’s
        identity.</FONT></P>
        <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
        size=3><FONT face="Times New
        Roman"> <o:p></o:p></FONT></FONT></P>
        <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
        size=3><FONT face="Times New
        Roman"> <o:p></o:p></FONT></FONT></P>
        <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
        face="Times New Roman" size=3>AN APRIL SHROUD<SPAN
        style="mso-tab-count:
        1">       
        </SPAN><SPAN style="mso-tab-count:
        1">           
        </SPAN>[Reginald Hill, 1975; Band 4:]</FONT></P>
        <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt;
        TEXT-INDENT: 36pt"><FONT face="Times New Roman"
        size=3>An early and consistently entertaining Hill
        built along orthodox lines and comparable to vintage
        (i.e. with plot) Innes.<SPAN style="mso-spacerun:
        yes">  </SPAN>The story is seen almost entirely
        through the eyes of the fat and unpleasant Dalziel
        (Pascoe being virtually absent until the end of the
        novel)—and it’s not a pleasant sight (with gratuitous
        introspective depression).<SPAN style="mso-spacerun:
        yes">  </SPAN>Dalziel, holidaying in
        Lincolnshire, comes across an aquatic funeral and a
        dotty family intent on creating a restaurant but
        lacking in capital—the object of his attentions,
        however, is Mrs. Fielding, whom he beds the day after
        her husband is buried.<SPAN style="mso-spacerun:
        yes">  </SPAN>The bizarre details of the plot
        (dead rats in freezers, anonymous telephone calls, the
        Gumbelow literary prize, and insurance fraud) all fit
        neatly together, and the ending is nicely ambiguous
        (if anti-climactic).</FONT></P>
        <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
        size=3><FONT face="Times New
        Roman"> <o:p></o:p></FONT></FONT></P>
        <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
        size=3><FONT face="Times New
        Roman"> <o:p></o:p></FONT></FONT></P>
        <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
        face="Times New Roman" size=3>RECALLED TO LIFE<SPAN
        style="mso-tab-count:
        1">           
        </SPAN>[Reginald Hill, 1992; Band 5:]</FONT></P>
        <P><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 12pt; FONT-FAMILY: 'Times
        New Roman'; mso-fareast-font-family: 'Times New
        Roman'; mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;
        mso-fareast-language: EN-US; mso-bidi-language:
        AR-SA">A rich and immensely satisfying story,
        embracing both the past and the present.<SPAN
        style="mso-spacerun: yes">  </SPAN>A new enquiry
        headed by the Ministry of Intelligence re-opens the
        investigation into the murder of Mrs. Westropp at
        Mickledore Hall in 1963, for which Sir Ralph M. and
        his lover Cissy Kohler were arrested by Dalziel’s
        mentor, since deceased, whom the investigators accuse
        of corruption—and with him, Dalziel.<SPAN
        style="mso-spacerun: yes">  </SPAN>The fat man,
        who <I>“wears a suit but [is] about as inconspicuous
        as a rapist in a nunnery”</I>, is in very good form,
        especially as he travels to America and takes on the
        American intelligence bureaux single-handed; Pascoe is
        not, spending too much time in pointless introspection
        following the events of <I>Bones and Silence</I>
        (arguably the worst Dalziel and Pascoe novel) and his
        growing entanglement with Mrs. P., who blames him for
        the suicide at the end of that book.<SPAN
        style="mso-spacerun: yes">  </SPAN>Espionage and
        political scandal (on both sides of the Atlantic, and
        both treasonable and sexual in nature) are integral to
        the highly complex plot, so complex, in fact, that the
        reader is left in obscurity for most of the story—yet
        all is cleared up by the end, when multiple solutions
        explode in the best style.</SPAN>
        <P><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 12pt; FONT-FAMILY: 'Times
        New Roman'; mso-fareast-font-family: 'Times New
        Roman'; mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;
        mso-fareast-language: EN-US; mso-bidi-language:
        AR-SA">Regards,</SPAN>
        <P><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 12pt; FONT-FAMILY: 'Times
        New Roman'; mso-fareast-font-family: 'Times New
        Roman'; mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;
        mso-fareast-language: EN-US; mso-bidi-language:
        AR-SA">Nick Fuller</SPAN></P>

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      • Nicholas Fuller
        Various reviews of various detective stories by sundry hands.  I have
        Message 3 of 16 , Jul 1, 2002
        • 0 Attachment
          <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
          face="Times New Roman" size=3>Various reviews of
          various detective stories by sundry hands.  I
          have returned to the shorter review form; hopefully
          these will be terser and more to the point than
          previous reviews.</FONT></P>
          <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
          face="Times New Roman" size=3></FONT> </P>
          <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
          face="Times New Roman" size=3>THE CHINA GOVERNESS<SPAN
          style="mso-tab-count:
          1">           
          </SPAN>[Margery Allingham, 1963; Band 4:]</FONT></P>
          <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt;
          TEXT-INDENT: 36pt"><FONT face="Times New Roman"
          size=3>Although very late Allingham, the story is as
          well-written as ever, with its Dickensian atmosphere,
          plot and characters.<SPAN style="mso-spacerun:
          yes">  </SPAN>The plot is complex (and rather
          disjointed, for the two halves of the story are only
          tenuously linked), involving the vice and poverty of
          the Turk Street Mile, Timothy Kinnit’s search for both
          his father and, by extension, himself, a juvenile
          delinquent (and atheist?) desperate for an identity
          yet proud of his independence, and a long-buried
          Victorian sandal.<SPAN style="mso-spacerun:
          yes">  </SPAN>The book features several of those
          sharply drawn portraits in which the author excels,
          notably the Kinnits, who <I>“don’t keep helping folk
          for the warm silly reason that they like the people
          concerned, but for the cold practical one that they
          hope to see themselves as nice people doing kind
          things”</I>, the childishly innocent Nanny Broome, the
          guilt-wracked idealist Cornish, and the spiteful Basil
          Toberman.<SPAN style="mso-spacerun: yes"> 
          </SPAN>Despite the presence of both Superintendent
          Luke and Albert Campion (an onlooker so sober and
          subdued as to be virtually colourless), there is
          little detection, rather a constant unfolding of
          plot.<SPAN style="mso-spacerun: yes">  </SPAN>The
          solution to the mystery is clever (although Miss
          Saxon’s behaviour never convinces); an alert reader
          will, however, suspect the villain but not the motive
          (revealed by Mr. Campion).</FONT></P>
          <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
          size=3><FONT face="Times New
          Roman"> <?xml:namespace prefix = o ns =
          "urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office"
          /><o:p></o:p></FONT></FONT></P>
          <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
          size=3><FONT face="Times New
          Roman"> <o:p></o:p></FONT></FONT></P>
          <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
          face="Times New Roman" size=3>THE LIFE SENTENCE<SPAN
          style="mso-tab-count:
          1">           
          </SPAN>[H.C. Bailey, 1946; Band 3:]</FONT></P>
          <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt;
          TEXT-INDENT: 36pt"><FONT size=3><FONT face="Times New
          Roman"><I>“Although purporting to be an early exploit
          of Reggie Fortune’s”</I> (i.e. written in sentences
          and without professional crime, although the usual
          horrible ‘dialogue’ between lovers is present), there
          is very little interest to be found in what is
          essentially a greatly expanded short story, padded to
          the gills with analysis of the events from all
          angles.<SPAN style="mso-spacerun: yes"> 
          </SPAN>Rosalind Bruce’s split personality and fear of
          fog are as uninteresting as the murder of her
          grandfather in Massingham, the slow but steady
          detection (Reggie does not shine), and the solution to
          the case (despite a twist which partially redeems a
          lifeless tale).</FONT></FONT></P>
          <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
          size=3><FONT face="Times New
          Roman"> <o:p></o:p></FONT></FONT></P>
          <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
          size=3><FONT face="Times New
          Roman"> <o:p></o:p></FONT></FONT></P>
          <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
          face="Times New Roman" size=3>THE FOUR FALSE
          WEAPONS<SPAN style="mso-tab-count:
          1">           
          </SPAN>[John Dickson Carr, 1937; Band 4:]</FONT></P>
          <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt;
          TEXT-INDENT: 36pt"><FONT face="Times New Roman"
          size=3>A good solid mystifying problem.<SPAN
          style="mso-spacerun: yes">  </SPAN>Henri
          Bencolin, mellowed since his retirement and hence more
          believable than the tiresomely theatrical puppet of
          earlier books, does a good logical job of clearing the
          play-boy from suspicion of having murdered his
          poule-de-luxe (murdered, it later transpires, in a
          particularly ingenious way).<SPAN style="mso-spacerun:
          yes">  </SPAN>The book’s theme is the triumph of
          common sense over science: none of the physical clues
          (sleeping pills, fingerprints, an electric clock,
          champagne, and the four false weapons themselves) are
          to be trusted, and the ingenious theories of Auguste
          Dupin, criminologist of L’Intelligence, which rely
          heavily upon physical clues, are invariably
          wrong.<SPAN style="mso-spacerun: yes"> 
          </SPAN>Ironically, the book is in the tradition of R.
          Austin Freeman, who wrote several scientific satires
          (e.g. <I>The Red Thumb Mark</I>).<SPAN
          style="mso-spacerun: yes">  </SPAN>The book’s
          principal flaw is its over-reliance on <I>“the innate
          perverseness of all human events”</I>; and, although
          the solution is logical and impeccably fair, the
          murderer’s character and relationship with his victim
          are not sufficiently built up to make the motive
          convincing.</FONT></P>
          <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
          size=3><FONT face="Times New
          Roman"> <o:p></o:p></FONT></FONT></P>
          <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
          size=3><FONT face="Times New
          Roman"> <o:p></o:p></FONT></FONT></P>
          <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
          face="Times New Roman" size=3>THE DEVIL IN VELVET<SPAN
          style="mso-tab-count:
          1">           
          </SPAN>[John Dickson Carr, 1937; Band 5:]</FONT></P>
          <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt;
          TEXT-INDENT: 36pt"><FONT size=3><FONT face="Times New
          Roman">The author himself considered this to be his
          “single finest piece of historical fiction”—and he
          will find few who disagree, for it is compulsively
          readable, and despite its length (330 closely-printed
          pages), completely devoid of padding.<SPAN
          style="mso-spacerun: yes">  </SPAN>Professor
          Nicholas Fenton sells his soul in order to travel back
          to 1675, where he inherits the body of the unpleasant
          Sir Nicholas Fenton (no relation), in an attempt to
          prevent the murder of Lydia Fenton by poisoning, and
          thereby undo the course of history (which leads him to
          blurt out things better left unsaid).<SPAN
          style="mso-spacerun: yes">  </SPAN>This ingenious
          and tense situation is described with such skill and
          delicacy as to prove those who accuse Carr of writing
          artificial and mechanical puzzles wrong, for this is a
          remarkably human book, Carr’s considerable talent
          shining as never before, especially in the characters
          of Fenton, Lydia, and her cousin Meg York.<SPAN
          style="mso-spacerun: yes">  </SPAN>Restoration
          London is brought vividly to life, and with it such
          illustrious personages as Charles II, Nell Gwynn, and
          Lord Shaftesbury of the Green Ribbon Club, which soon
          establishes itself as a threat.<SPAN
          style="mso-spacerun: yes">  </SPAN>With Fenton
          facing danger from four fronts, having to prevent Lady
          Fenton’s murder, his murder at the head of the
          Cromwellites, the devil from gaining possession of his
          soul, and Sir Nick Fenton from gaining possession of
          his body, there is plenty of action and danger.<SPAN
          style="mso-spacerun: yes">  </SPAN>This is
          perhaps Carr’s most violent book, with swordplay in
          Dead Man’s Lane, battles in Pall Mall, and a final
          thrilling duel at the Tower of London, all of which
          show the influence of Alexandre Dumas.<SPAN
          style="mso-spacerun: yes">  </SPAN>If anything
          suffers, it is detection, for this is predominantly a
          novel of action.<SPAN style="mso-spacerun: yes"> 
          </SPAN>Yet Carr produces a genuinely surprising
          solution, as satisfying as that of <I>The Crooked
          Hinge</I><SPAN style="mso-bidi-font-style:
          italic">—and follows it up with an ending equally
          unsatisfactory.<o:p></o:p></SPAN></FONT></FONT></P>
          <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN
          style="mso-bidi-font-style: italic"><FONT size=3><FONT
          face="Times New
          Roman"> <o:p></o:p></FONT></FONT></SPAN></P>
          <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><SPAN
          style="mso-bidi-font-style: italic"><FONT size=3><FONT
          face="Times New
          Roman"> <o:p></o:p></FONT></FONT></SPAN></P>
          <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
          face="Times New Roman" size=3>THE MAN IN THE BROWN
          SUIT<SPAN style="mso-tab-count: 1">   
          </SPAN>[Agatha Christie, 1924; Band 3:]</FONT></P>
          <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt;
          TEXT-INDENT: 36pt"><FONT face="Times New Roman"
          size=3>One of Christie’s earliest books—a
          tongue-in-cheek treatment of “The Perils of Pamela”,
          or, rather, of Anne Beddingfeld (alias Anne the
          adventuress), the attractive (but impoverished)
          heroine who tells of her involvement in international
          crime (i.e., diamond robbery, gun-running, and
          political agitation, all impossible to take seriously
          for an instant).<SPAN style="mso-spacerun: yes"> 
          </SPAN>She travels to South Africa to unmask ‘the
          Colonel’, one of those master criminals so popular
          then who <I>“has organised crime as another man might
          organise a boot factory”</I> (and who reappears in
          <I>Death on the Nile</I>) and ends up falling in love
          with one of those <I>“stern silent Rhodesians … strong
          silent men who always ‘felled their opponent with a
          single blow’”</I> suspected of strangling the Russian
          dancer in the country house of Sir Eustace
          Pedler.<SPAN style="mso-spacerun: yes"> 
          </SPAN>His account of the voyage is very funny
          (although unfair on at least three occasions, a
          mistake she would not make with <I>The Murder of Roger
          Ackroyd</I>).</FONT></P>
          <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt;
          TEXT-INDENT: 36pt"><FONT size=3><FONT face="Times New
          Roman"> <o:p></o:p></FONT></FONT></P>
          <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt;
          TEXT-INDENT: 36pt"><FONT size=3><FONT face="Times New
          Roman"> <o:p></o:p></FONT></FONT></P>
          <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
          face="Times New Roman" size=3>THE A.B.C. MURDERS<SPAN
          style="mso-tab-count:
          1">           
          </SPAN>[Agatha Christie, 1935; Band 5]:</FONT></P>
          <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt;
          TEXT-INDENT: 36pt"><FONT face="Times New Roman"
          size=3>One of Christie’s great triumphs—an original
          plot, a masterpiece of telling the truth and making it
          lie, and a successful application of Anthony
          Berkeley’s favourite gambit (similarities to <I>The
          Silk Stocking Murders</I> and to Chesterton’s <I>“The
          Sign of the Broken Sword”</I> are obvious—comparisons,
          however, are not only obvious but odious).<SPAN
          style="mso-spacerun: yes">  </SPAN>Poirot is in
          magnificent form, showing <I>“real genius in the way
          he tackled a problem entirely unlike any which had
          previously come his way”</I>.<SPAN
          style="mso-spacerun: yes">  </SPAN>With the
          (limited) assistance of Captain Hastings and of the
          victims’ relatives, and spurred on by rivalry with
          Inspector Crome, he investigates a series of seemingly
          random murders across England and in various social
          milieux (working-class Andover, middle-class
          Bexhill-on-Sea, squirearchical Churston), linked only
          by the presence of the <I>A.B.C. Guide</I> and of the
          sinister Mr. Cust.<SPAN style="mso-spacerun:
          yes">  </SPAN>The grisly series comes to its
          close in the melting-pot of Doncaster.<SPAN
          style="mso-spacerun: yes">  </SPAN>Perplexed,
          however, by the fact that Cust is <I>“stupid and
          cunning, ruthless and magnanimous” </I>and lacks a
          logical motive, and by his possession of a cast-iron
          alibi, Poirot reasons from psychological clues (what
          people read, the haphazard nature of the crimes) to
          produce a psychological profile of the killer, which
          he proves with physical clues (the letters—a classic
          example of presenting the clues in a different
          light).</FONT></P>
          <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt;
          TEXT-INDENT: 36pt"><FONT size=3><FONT face="Times New
          Roman"> <o:p></o:p></FONT></FONT></P>
          <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt;
          TEXT-INDENT: 36pt"><FONT size=3><FONT face="Times New
          Roman"> <o:p></o:p></FONT></FONT></P>
          <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
          face="Times New Roman" size=3>THE PALE HORSE<SPAN
          style="mso-tab-count:
          1">           
          </SPAN>[Agatha Christie, 1961; Band 5:]</FONT></P>
          <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt;
          TEXT-INDENT: 36pt"><FONT face="Times New Roman"
          size=3>At once stylish and sinister, this convincingly
          handled tale of murder-by-witchcraft-for-sale,
          <I>“murder as </I>business<I>—murder that takes no
          account of who or what the victim may be”</I>, is
          Christie’s last triumph.<SPAN style="mso-spacerun:
          yes">  </SPAN>The story begins with the murder of
          a man of God by the forces of evil (a dominant theme
          in the novel), returning from the death-bed confession
          of Mrs. Davis, <I>“knowing herself to be dying, and
          wanting to make her peace with heaven”</I>.<SPAN
          style="mso-spacerun: yes">  </SPAN>The list of
          names found on Father Gorman’s body suggests murder on
          a grand scale—operated, it soon becomes clear, by
          three witches who kill by operating on the death-wish
          (the play with morbid psychology is unusual for
          Christie); the séance ranks with that in <I>The
          Worsted Viper</I> (Gladys Mitchell, 1943), made worse
          by the horrible common sense of Thyrza Grey.<SPAN
          style="mso-spacerun: yes">  </SPAN>Characters,
          including the vulpine cripple Venables (the use of the
          invalid in the wheel-chair is superb both as red
          herring and as double-edged clue), the oleaginous Mr.
          Bradley, and the insignificant chemist Zachariah
          Osborne, are vivid and unusual, and it will be an
          alert reader who spots the identity of the villain,
          <I>“someone who wants to be important, but who never
          will be important, because he’ll always be less than a
          man”</I>, before the professional Lejeune; and the
          brilliant method (showing the author’s medical
          training) before the amateur Mark
          Easterbrook.</FONT></P>
          <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
          size=3><FONT face="Times New
          Roman"> <o:p></o:p></FONT></FONT></P>
          <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
          size=3><FONT face="Times New
          Roman"> <o:p></o:p></FONT></FONT></P>
          <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
          face="Times New Roman" size=3>THE MIRROR CRACK’D FROM
          SIDE TO SIDE<SPAN style="mso-tab-count:
          1">           
          </SPAN>[Agatha Christie, 1962; Band 4:]</FONT></P>
          <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt;
          TEXT-INDENT: 36pt"><FONT face="Times New Roman"
          size=3>A rather alien note is struck in Miss Marple’s
          village of St. Mary Mead both by the modern
          Development and by the presence of the entourage of
          drug-addicted and neurotic Hollywood expats (based,
          one may ask, on what experience?) surrounding the
          glamorous Marina Gregg, arguably as batty as any of
          them—not without reason, however, since it soon
          becomes clear that the poison that killed the St.
          John’s Ambulance secretary was intended for her.<SPAN
          style="mso-spacerun: yes">  </SPAN>Despite
          excessive coincidence in the form of Miss G.’s
          husbands and adopted children, the plotting is tight
          without dithering or digressions; and Miss Marple,
          with the Waghorn-esque assistance of D.I. Craddock,
          does a good job of working out the motive, the secret
          of which is better kept than that of the murderer’s
          identity.</FONT></P>
          <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
          size=3><FONT face="Times New
          Roman"> <o:p></o:p></FONT></FONT></P>
          <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
          size=3><FONT face="Times New
          Roman"> <o:p></o:p></FONT></FONT></P>
          <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
          face="Times New Roman" size=3>AN APRIL SHROUD<SPAN
          style="mso-tab-count:
          1">       
          </SPAN><SPAN style="mso-tab-count:
          1">           
          </SPAN>[Reginald Hill, 1975; Band 4:]</FONT></P>
          <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt;
          TEXT-INDENT: 36pt"><FONT face="Times New Roman"
          size=3>An early and consistently entertaining Hill
          built along orthodox lines and comparable to vintage
          (i.e. with plot) Innes.<SPAN style="mso-spacerun:
          yes">  </SPAN>The story is seen almost entirely
          through the eyes of the fat and unpleasant Dalziel
          (Pascoe being virtually absent until the end of the
          novel)—and it’s not a pleasant sight (with gratuitous
          introspective depression).<SPAN style="mso-spacerun:
          yes">  </SPAN>Dalziel, holidaying in
          Lincolnshire, comes across an aquatic funeral and a
          dotty family intent on creating a restaurant but
          lacking in capital—the object of his attentions,
          however, is Mrs. Fielding, whom he beds the day after
          her husband is buried.<SPAN style="mso-spacerun:
          yes">  </SPAN>The bizarre details of the plot
          (dead rats in freezers, anonymous telephone calls, the
          Gumbelow literary prize, and insurance fraud) all fit
          neatly together, and the ending is nicely ambiguous
          (if anti-climactic).</FONT></P>
          <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
          size=3><FONT face="Times New
          Roman"> <o:p></o:p></FONT></FONT></P>
          <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
          size=3><FONT face="Times New
          Roman"> <o:p></o:p></FONT></FONT></P>
          <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
          face="Times New Roman" size=3>RECALLED TO LIFE<SPAN
          style="mso-tab-count:
          1">           
          </SPAN>[Reginald Hill, 1992; Band 5:]</FONT></P>
          <P><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 12pt; FONT-FAMILY: 'Times
          New Roman'; mso-fareast-font-family: 'Times New
          Roman'; mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;
          mso-fareast-language: EN-US; mso-bidi-language:
          AR-SA">A rich and immensely satisfying story,
          embracing both the past and the present.<SPAN
          style="mso-spacerun: yes">  </SPAN>A new enquiry
          headed by the Ministry of Intelligence re-opens the
          investigation into the murder of Mrs. Westropp at
          Mickledore Hall in 1963, for which Sir Ralph M. and
          his lover Cissy Kohler were arrested by Dalziel’s
          mentor, since deceased, whom the investigators accuse
          of corruption—and with him, Dalziel.<SPAN
          style="mso-spacerun: yes">  </SPAN>The fat man,
          who <I>“wears a suit but [is] about as inconspicuous
          as a rapist in a nunnery”</I>, is in very good form,
          especially as he travels to America and takes on the
          American intelligence bureaux single-handed; Pascoe is
          not, spending too much time in pointless introspection
          following the events of <I>Bones and Silence</I>
          (arguably the worst Dalziel and Pascoe novel) and his
          growing entanglement with Mrs. P., who blames him for
          the suicide at the end of that book.<SPAN
          style="mso-spacerun: yes">  </SPAN>Espionage and
          political scandal (on both sides of the Atlantic, and
          both treasonable and sexual in nature) are integral to
          the highly complex plot, so complex, in fact, that the
          reader is left in obscurity for most of the story—yet
          all is cleared up by the end, when multiple solutions
          explode in the best style.</SPAN>
          <P><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 12pt; FONT-FAMILY: 'Times
          New Roman'; mso-fareast-font-family: 'Times New
          Roman'; mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;
          mso-fareast-language: EN-US; mso-bidi-language:
          AR-SA">Regards,</SPAN>
          <P><SPAN style="FONT-SIZE: 12pt; FONT-FAMILY: 'Times
          New Roman'; mso-fareast-font-family: 'Times New
          Roman'; mso-ansi-language: EN-AU;
          mso-fareast-language: EN-US; mso-bidi-language:
          AR-SA">Nick Fuller</SPAN></P>

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        • wyattjames
          Nick, As I guess you have discovered by now, you can t use HTML in Yahoo groups. A nuisance, since it s almost impossible to format messages otherwise, but
          Message 4 of 16 , Jul 2, 2002
          • 0 Attachment
            Nick,
            As I guess you have discovered by now, you can't use HTML in Yahoo
            groups. A nuisance, since it's almost impossible to format messages
            otherwise, but that's the way it is....

            --- In GAdetection@y..., Nicholas Fuller <stoke_moran@y...> wrote:
            > <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
            > face="Times New Roman" size=3>Various reviews of
            > various detective stories by sundry hands.  I
            > have returned to the shorter review form; hopefully
            > these will be terser and more to the point than
            > previous reviews.</FONT></P>
            > <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
            > face="Times New Roman" size=3></FONT> </P>
            > <P class=MsoNormal style="MARGIN: 0cm 0cm 0pt"><FONT
            > face="Times New Roman" size=3>THE CHINA GOVERNESS<SPAN
            > style="mso-tab-count:
            >
            1">           .
            .................
          • RICHARD LIEDHOLM
            Whew, Nick, the mind boggles. Of all these books I have read, the only one I feel differently about is Philip MacDonald s The Choice (a.k.a. The Polferry
            Message 5 of 16 , Jul 8, 2003
            • 0 Attachment
              Whew, Nick, the mind boggles. Of all these books I have read, the only one I feel differently about is Philip MacDonald's The Choice (a.k.a. The Polferry Riddle). I liked it quite a bit more than you, though I guess, upon reflection, the solution was a bit unsatisfying. MacDonald could be considered 'the mad scientist' of GA authors since he did a lot of experimenting. For example, The Maze is an entire novel told through the device of a coroner's report which is written out verbatim from beginning to end. MacDonald confesses at the book's opening that he attempted to write a completely fair-play puzzle, a challenge to the reader to see if they can solve the mystery before Gethryn. I have not gathered myself up to read it yet. I also consider Murder Gone Mad an experiment, if only because of the unusual ending. Compare this book with Beeding's Death Walks in Eastrepps and you'll know what I mean. John Dickson Carr put Murder Gone Mad on his list of ten greatest detective stories ever written- but then, I think he changed his mind... Well, Murder Gone Mad is an experience, no question there.

              But this brings me to say: thanks for your reviews. It is always a pleasure to hear what you are reading. You have an uncanny ability to detect (pun intended) what is good and what is bad in a novel. I would certainly trust your opinions over most of the published critics, certainly more then that Symons fellow.

              Richard

              ----- Original Message -----
              From: Nicholas Fuller
              Sent: Monday, July 07, 2003 11:53 PM
              To: GAdetection@yahoogroups.com
              Subject: [GAdetection] Reviews


              To avoid giving the game away, I have written parts of the text (marked by SPOILER) in white text; to read these, simply highlight them, and all will be revealed.



              BELL, JOSEPHINE

              A HOLE IN THE GROUND (1971)

              This late Bell suffers from a problem shared with Gladys Mitchell and Margery Allingham: many of the scenes are excellent, demonstrating fertility and ingenuity, but the same fertility and ingenuity are over-applied to the serious business of plotting, resulting in such tangled webs that their foundation lives up to the book’s title. Thus, although the surprisingly Rendellesque presentation of the two murderous sisters (one of whom the doctor hero is completely taken aback to discover is a lesbian) and the scenes in the Devil’s Well are excellent, the details of the crimes committed twenty years before the main action are impossible to follow, calling for mute acceptance rather than for scrutiny. A pity, for this “crime novel” (as critics would call it) could have been an excellent book with a little more work.





              BERKELEY, ANTHONY

              JUMPING JENNY (1933)

              Nowhere is Roger Sheringham’s fallibility seen to better effect than in this lively and witty tale that rivals Waugh for fertility of humour. Mrs. Stratton, a splendidly egomaniacal, megalomaniacal and exhibitionist bitch, is murdered onstage, before the reader’s very eyes. Roger, suspecting from the absence of a chair that the ostensible suicide is in fact murder, covers up the evidence and draws erroneous conclusions, not the least brilliant of which is that by which he exonerates the character the reader knows to be the murderer, a stroke of ingenuity rivalled only by the suggestion that Sheringham is the culprit! Throughout, the reader is in the happy position of knowing more than the detective, and so being able to laugh at him—until the end, when he kicks himself good and hard.





              ILES, FRANCIS

              MALICE AFORETHOUGHT (1931)

              A delightful comedy (for this is its main strength, not the fact that it was the first “psychological thriller”—and I have my doubts about this fact: didn’t Mrs. Belloc Lowndes anticipate Cox?). Dr. Bickleigh, a philandering medico suffering from an inferiority complex, determines to rid himself of his wife, a bullying and domineering shrew, in order to marry his mistress—who announces her engagement to another man immediately after the murder. (Of course, his “ingenious” plan is immediately seen through by the other villagers.) Superb wit: excellent social satire—St. Mary Mead steeped in venomed ink, with plenty of amusingly catty back-biting and splendid caricatures. Berkeley at his most acerbic is highly amusing, in small doses—like aconitine.





              BOWERS, DOROTHY

              SHADOWS BEFORE (1939)

              The author’s second novel, rather sinister in tone. A (mysterious) companion is employed by a madwoman, who is subsequently poisoned, apparently by her husband, who has already been tried for his sister-in-law’s murder. Solidly entertaining, although the author tries too hard to be “artistic” in the Sayers / Mitchell vein (literary chapter headings et al.), and so comes across as being slightly pretentious; and the scenery occasionally gets in the way of the plot. The excellence of characterisation and the interest of the plot are more than adequate compensation for these flaws. What remains a disappointment is the solution: although ingenious, it is not quite convincing, suffering from the needless use of accomplices.





              BUSH, CHRISTOPHER

              DEAD MAN TWICE (1930)

              The reader who, like this critic, loathes sport in whatever form it takes, should not be put off by the excess of boxing at the beginning of this story. Once the double murder of the same man, which claims another victim, is committed, involving a coincidence as hard to swallow as cyanide-laced whiskey, a good solid investigation is underfoot that demonstrates Bush’s mastery of the onion technique. Franklin comes across as a jolly idiot, Wharton is ingenious (notably in Chapter XVII), and Travers is only peripherally involved. Although the murderers are obvious well before the end, interest does not flag; and the final solution, solved by Wharton and Travers simultaneously yet working from different angles, involves a good mechanical device, of the sort that would work.



              CUT THROAT (1932)

              Some readers may wish to be surprised by the dramatic revelation of the most unlikely suspect, but to the reader of truly intellectual mind, no challenge to the reader is preferable to that offered by Dorothy L. Sayers, John Rhode, and, here, by Christopher Bush. The reader will know the identity of the murderer from the end of Part I, but be brought up short by his “cast-iron” alibi. How the alibi is shown to be of quite a different metal is revealed in the solution that convinces the reader that Bush was to the unbreakable alibi what Carr was to the impossible crime.



              THE CASE OF THE MONDAY MURDERS (1936)

              Since 1918, thirteen murders have been committed on a Monday, according to Ferdinand Pole of the Murder League. As if to prove his thesis, a paedophiliac economist and an actress without a past die on two successive Mondays. Ludovic Travers and ‘General’ Wharton are competent enough in their Miles Burtonish manner, and the story-telling is faster and less monotonous than one expects from tales of mass murder. Unfortunately, there are only two (at a pinch, three) suspects, so the murderer’s identity is hardly surprising and hence disappointing. A parrot is not used as well as it could have been.



              THE CASE OF THE TUDOR QUEEN (1938)

              An actress and her servant (distant relative) are found dead in her otherwise empty house, in circumstances which, were it not for other facts which immediately prove murder yet prevent Travers and Wharton from proving anything other than suicide, would be taken at face value as suicide. The book is intricately plotted, and the strong detective interest more than makes up for the cardboard characterisation; indeed, it is a pleasure to be present at the search of the house following the murder, and to witness Travers’s investigations in the second part of the story, in which he attempts to prove the truth, which came to him in an intuitive flash. The alibi he busts is fiendishly clever, and the clues are of the best kind: obvious when revealed, but hidden from the reader. Absolutely first-class.



              THE CASE OF THE PLATINUM BLONDE (1944)

              A pleasingly detailed village problem with two shootings, to which Ludovic Travers propounds two solutions. The surprise ending is well-clued, but the reader should be able to anticipate it. More complex than most Bush novels, although the complexity comes close to obscurity: half the village is either blackmailing or being blackmailed by the other half, which may be termed excessive coincidence. Better writing than most Bush novels, which came to resemble shorthand notations as he grew older.



              THE CASE OF THE SECOND CHANCE (1946)

              Although not as bad as Barzun thought, certainly not one of the author’s triumphs. Travers and Wharton come to the conclusion that the unpleasant actor-manager was murdered by one of four people (secretary, housekeeper and two actors), and are stonewalled for the next two hundred pages. This is a mistake, because it leads to disassociation and loss of interest; not even a blackmail case and the strangling of the client three years later can really make amends. The detection is the worst sort of humdrum (much waiting and following, very little thinking), and hardly bolsters up one of the author’s slightest plots. The solution is reasonable, but suffers from the annoying use of that “hoary old trick,” the gramophone (why didn’t the accomplice take it with her when she got married? Or even dispose of it entirely?). The alibi in the first murder is full of holes: if A and B enter a shop and A asks for the time to which B gives the wrong time, surely it is not unlikely that the
              shopkeeper would look at the shop clock, whereupon the whole alibi would crumble?





              CARR, JOHN DICKSON

              THE LOST GALLOWS (1931)

              It says much for Carr’s style that he is able to make this story of a Jack Ketch who kidnaps his victims in order to hang them on a private gallows to avenge a private wrong not only entertaining but convincing. The duel between the suavely witty Bencolin and Sir John Landervorne; the superb use of the London fog and what Dr. Pilgrim saw; and the lost street, “the prettiest fancy in the whole realm of nightmare,” form a logical whole. Carr’s style has greatly improved since It Walks by Night; even though lurid in parts, the prose is generally excellent, and gives the impression of moving through a nightmare, at once theatrical and melodramatic, but thoroughly entertaining. The only serious flaw is that Jack Ketch is far too easily spotted. Note also a very strange but effective ending.



              THE MURDER OF SIR EDMUND GODFREY (1936)

              Although renowned for his superb detective stories, Carr’s masterpiece of history and detection (arguably the same discipline) is his reconstruction of The Murder of Sir Edmund Godfrey. Despite an obvious anti-Whig bias and his adoration of Charles II, his historical method is excellent, drawing a most dramatically colourful picture of Restoration England and weighing up the odds impartially. The theories are brilliantly argued, and equally brilliantly demolished, and the final solution is quite convincing. Superb.



              THE PROBLEM OF THE WIRE CAGE (1939)

              Dull and commonplace suburban setting with tennis court on which vicious Caligulan youth strangled, without any footprints left in the mud. Owing to singular paucity of suspects, reader should be able to spot villain without much difficulty, despite police suspicion of thick-headed hero and lover, who speaks nauseatingly of the victim’s “poor old face.” Solution is as impossible as the situation: not only difficult to visualise, but Frankly preposterous: would anyone be so stupid? Over-written and under-plotted: thick neurotic atmosphere in which emotions are as much strained to breaking point as the reader’s patience; while lacking in the crucial complexity of the author at his best, who admitted “that book should have been a novelette.” Too many theatre people, as bad as anything in Clayton Rawson, not enough of whom get murdered; and very little Dr. Fell, who acts badly out of character, gloating at the villain: “I now propose…to give myself the extreme pleasure of telling you
              where you get off… The gallows. They are going to hang you.” The last words suggest a plea on the author’s part: “He may, perhaps, be excused for not being up to his usual form.” We won’t.



              THE SEAT OF THE SCORNFUL (1941)

              Unquestionably the author’s best book of the 1940s: one of the very few successful attempts by any author to combine the problem of detection with the novel of character, and a simple and straightforward case. Superb presentation of a severe cat-and-mouse judge who finds himself suspected of murder, until Dr. Fell solves the case in remarkably short time, discovering it to be an almost-perfect murder: although the murderer is known, his guilt cannot be proved.



              THE BRIDE OF NEWGATE (1950)

              Carr’s first historical detective novel—and one of his finest. Every conceivable aspect of 1815 that could lend itself to excitement, tragedy or melodrama is so used: the Battle of Waterloo, the last-minute repeal of an accused murderer married not one hour before to an ice maiden, the duels with sabre and with pistol, and a riot at the Opera. Throughout, the reader is kept wondering about the identity of the murderer of Lord Orford and of the coachman wrapped in graveyard mould. Superb misdirection, and a particularly clever solution to the locked room, although the murderer’s identity is, although hardly suspected, perhaps too unsuspected to prevent a slight anti-climax.



              THE NINE WRONG ANSWERS (1952)

              One of the most consistently entertaining later Carrs, reminiscent of classic Hitchcock. Bill Dawson, a young Englishman working in America, is employed by a fellow expatriate to impersonate him for six months in order to inherit his splendidly sadistic uncle’s fortune; the nephew is poisoned, and suspicion falls upon Dawson, who travels to Britain to avenge the murder. Full of excitement and tension, with just a touch of diffuseness in the shift from England to America—splendid scenes at the B.B.C. and in Uncle Gaylord’s flat. Smash surprise solution given, very aptly, in Sherlock Holmes’s rooms. Catch this Carr!

              One very minor flaw: Why does Bill Dawson call his mother ‘Mom’?



              CAPTAIN CUT-THROAT (1955)

              An adventure / espionage thriller set during the Napoleonic Wars, and on the eve of the invasion of Britain. Plenty of tension and action, including a splendid scene at the Field of Balloons, and a lightning-fast and razor-sharp duel of wits between the hero and Joseph Fouché culminating in the staggering revelation of Captain Cut-Throat, but there is far more riding and rescuing than ratiocination, so the book does not really compare with the more detection-oriented historical novels.



              FIRE, BURN! (1957)

              Closely related to The Devil in Velvet: a time-travelling policeman, in love with a woman whose picture he saw at the Victoria and Albert Museum, finds himself involved in a late nineteenth-century murder (impossible, of course). Although rather emotive in parts, there is plenty of action and local colour, although the gambling den brawls and fisticuffs with Captain Hogben somewhat obscure the truly ingenious murder and surprising murderer.





              CHRISTIE, AGATHA

              THE BIG FOUR (1927)

              Nearly all the Detection Club rules are broken in this, Christie’s worst book for some fifty years. Poirot faces a group of super-criminals: a fiendish Oriental, an American millionaire, a mad scientist (“mad—mad—mad with the madness of genius!”), and “the destroyer,” who are behind all the world problems: “the world-wide unrest, the labour troubles that beset every nation, and the revolutions that break out in some,” as well as Lenin and Trotsky, “mere puppets whose every action was dictated by another’s brain.” Their ultimate goal is, of course, to use a laser beam to take over the world. The bulk of the book concerns various loosely related cases (some of which, such as “A Chess Problem,” are ingenious enough), but too many episodes are appropriate to a shilling shocker: e.g., Hastings, having refused a fiendish Oriental devil’s order to lure Poirot into a trap on pain of death (with typical English understatement, “that Chinese devil meant business, I was sure of that. It was
              goodbye to the good old world.”), capitulates when he learns that his wife will die by the Seventy Lingering Deaths. And so it gets sillier and sillier as it goes on, until, Poirot having died and come back from the dead as an imaginary twin brother, it ends with the Big Four blowing up the Dolomites in a mass suicide pact. Tripe.



              CROOKED HOUSE (1949)

              In this stock account of the poisoning of a Greek tycoon by a close family member, there is far more conversation than deduction, far more discovery of possible motive than ratiocination. Indeed, the identity of the psychologically abnormal murderer dawns on the narrator-hero only after the murderer’s diary falls into his hands. Not one of Christie’s best.



              AFTER THE FUNERAL (1953)

              Christie’s last classic performance, playing (as she did in the 1930s) on the genre’s conventions. Here, a wealthy old man is cremated without any suspicion of foul play arising until his sister asks ‘He was murdered, wasn’t he?’, whereupon she is battered to death. The family lawyer calls in Poirot, who functions late, but very effectively. Clueing top-notch standard job, including two brilliant devices (the mirror and the wax flowers) dangled lovingly (yet tantalisingly out of reach) before the reader’s very nose. Murderer’s identity as brilliant as the plot used to camouflage the murder, and, as a character, ranks with those in Lord Edgware Dies and Five Little Pigs.



              4.50 FROM PADDINGTON (1957)

              Late Christie and a dithery, fluttering Miss Marple who is only peripherally involved do not make a good combination. Although she does some surveying and map-reading to discover the house where the body of the woman seen strangled on board a train has been hidden, she does not apply reason to the problem of two murders caused by a tontine will and the identity of the woman (two fairly standard ploys), but experiences a revelatory flash—not, of course, shared with the reader, who has no chance of spotting the culprit.



              ENDLESS NIGHT (1967)

              One of Christie’s darkest and most disturbing novels. Although dangerously close to Gothic romance (young couple, newly-wed, buy a house on haunted and cursed land; their experiences culminate in tragedy), the story is particularly compelling, and the characterisation, particularly of the amiable working-class boy who tells the story, superb. SPOILER The dénouement, in which all one’s expectations are subverted and the likeable narrator revealed to be an amoral psychopath, is deeply shocking—the treatment of the ending recalls Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman. SPOILER ENDS





              COLE, G.D.H. & M.

              BURGLARS IN BUCKS (1930)

              This tale of a country-house burglary, recounted, like Collins’s The Moonstone and Sayers’s The Documents in the Case (also 1930, and, according to the T.L.S., published within a month of each other), almost entirely through the characters’ letters and notes, is quite amusing. Unfortunately, when dealing with a bloodless crime, the question “Who cares?” tends to come to mind. Hence, a trifle, and a very light one at that.



              OFF WITH HER HEAD! (1938)

              Nothing speaks more about the English detective story’s avoidance of excessive detail (so beloved of the depraved contemporary writer) than its treatment of gore. Here, the severed head found in a student’s room is treated in as light-hearted a manner as the obligatory eccentricities of the various dons. Thus we have humour instead of horror. Unfortunately, the plot is as light as the style. The action is diffuse; the plot as full of holes as a soufflé (why send the package containing the head? What purpose does the car accident at the beginning serve?), and equally inconsistent (although the crime was committed on Monday night and the bulk of the action takes place on Wednesday, the detectives inquire into the events of Tuesday night); and the reader has little chance of spotting the murderer. For that matter, neither does the detective, young Insp. Fairford, who relies on a murderous attack on his beloved in broad daylight.





              CONNINGTON, J.J.

              THE CASE WITH NO SOLUTIONS (1928)

              In this early Connington (his sixth), Sir Clinton Driffield is at the very top of his form—acerbic, sardonic and cynical—as he investigates four murders—beginning with that of an egomaniacal would-be rapist, who gets nothing less than his just deserts—which he reconstructs most ingeniously, and complicated by the clever code letters sent by “Mr. Justice.” Although the Nine Solutions themselves are disappointing, being only the mathematical permutations and combinations of the crimes, everything else about the book is of the highest order. In a complex plot, the author has a firm grasp on all the threads: the choice of red herrings, clues, motives and suspects is excellent; and every page teems with good ideas, including some highly ingenious scientific dodges. Only the final solution (Excerpts from Sir Clinton’s Notebook) seems a bit long.





              CROFTS, FREEMAN WILLS

              INSPECTOR FRENCH AND THE STARVEL TRAGEDY (1927)

              One of Crofts’s most highly praised works, which lives up to its reputation with ease. A miser and his servants are burnt to death in Yorkshire; despite the verdict of accident, murder is suggested by the fact that the bank notes, which should have perished in the fire, are still in circulation. French, disguised as an insurance investigator, travels north, and from there to France and Scotland. Despite a great deal of travelling, his plodding detection is genuinely interesting, and, although he only solves the crime a minute before he arrests the murderer, he comes across as more of a thinker than in later tales. The red herrings to which he applies his mind are as fresh as the writing and characterisation; and, although the reader will not be unduly surprised by the final revelation, he will marvel at the intricacy of a highly ingenious plot, with a nice bit of body-snatching for extra merit.



              SIR JOHN MAGILL’S LAST JOURNEY (1930)

              Crofts’s best-known, but certainly not best, story. It gets off to a flying start with French’s investigations into the disappearance of Magill in the vicinity of Whitehead, the discovery of his corpse, and the stripping away of the preliminary levels of the plot. Halfway through, though, the rattling pace comes to a grinding halt, and is replaced by a steady, if steadily unexciting, walking pace. It cannot be said that French does much reasoning: there is much inquiry into the movements of trains and boats (too mathematical for the lay reader), but his detection consists largely of interviewing witness after witness and letting them solve the puzzle for him. The reader is more fortunate, for the solution is obvious from the very beginning. Since the sleeping draught is given on Wednesday and much attention is paid to the details of Wednesday night, it is quite obvious that the Thursday night business is fake. The solution is over-complicated, and the mass conspiracy to murder
              one man seems a case of overkill. How superior is The Five Red Herrings!



              THE 12.30 FROM CROYDON (1934)

              A not entirely successful experiment: instead of focusing on the activities of Inspector French, the story is seen entirely from the perspective of the murderer, a businessman facing bankruptcy who deludes himself into the belief that his two murders are committed for the greater good, and seems to suffer from Macbeth’s conscience. Although the murderer is better-drawn than most Croftsian cardboard figures, the other characters are all flat, and there are no twists in the tale. French appears only two or three times during the course of the story, and, rather than detecting, explains how the murderer committed his crime in rather laborious detail. Many scenes show this to be a pale imitation of Francis Iles’s Malice Aforethought.



              THE LOSS OF THE JANE VOSPER (1936)

              Crofts all too treacherously arouses the reader’s expectations with a dramatic opening depicting the sinking of a ship at sea, no lives lost. The growing certainty that the ship was sabotaged for the insurance and the disappearance of a private detective bring in French, who is at his most plodding and pedantic; indeed, the early sections of the investigation are among the dullest we have yet encountered from this reader. The plot is equally dull: the question of identity is irrelevant and hence anti-climactic, while the reader should be able to solve the how question halfway through. Bah.





              DANE, CLEMENCE & SIMPSON, HELEN

              ENTER SIR JOHN (1931)

              Following Sayers’s Strong Poison by one year, this witty and elegant tale concerns the attempts of actor-manager Sir John Saumarez to defend one actress accused of murdering another with a poker in a fugue. Although the murderer is apparent from very early on and the motive very dated, there is enough humour (including some splendid scenes with the jury) and good writing to carry the tale, and, following a rather theatrical trap, a memorable chase.





              DOYLE, SIR ARTHUR CONAN

              THE VALLEY OF FEAR (1914)
              The last of the four Sherlock Holmes novels, and one of the two best. It contains more detection in its first section than The Hound of the Baskervilles, with Holmes (off-stage for much of The Hound) actively investigating the murder at Birlstone, and drawing his ever-fascinating deductions from raincoats and dumb-bells; indeed it is the only pure detective story among the four, with the reader given every opportunity to solve the crime. SPOILER Although the solution is justly famous, it is but a variation on “The Norwood Builder,” at much greater length. SPOILER ENDSThe second half of the tale concerns the doings of the Pinkerton agent Birdy Edwardes in the eponymous Valley, terrorised by the Freemasons, a gripping and powerful account which is perhaps of greater interest than the detection.





              FERRARS, ELIZABETH

              MILK OF HUMAN KINDNESS (1950)
              For all the praise which some critics heap on Miss Ferrars, this is a deplorable book. It is more suspense than detection, and feminine at that: amidst a welter of domestic detail, the narrator and other characters keep discussing their feelings, rather than bothering to detect; hence, speculation takes the place of ratiocination. The reader spends the first half of the story impatiently waiting for the murder to occur, and wondering why the author views her characters in terms of materials, rather than being interested in the feeble complications caused by a Roger Clegg picture and by a housekeeper whose employers have the habit of dying on her. When murder does take place, the victim is repellent, but arbitrary, and it is hard to take much interest in the unravelment of what passes for the problem. The solution is notably unconvincing: SPOILER if the murderer is planning to take his own life, why take another’s to cover the traces? SPOILER ENDS Even the poorly conceived
              multiple solutions, which it would be an insult to Mr. Berkeley to compare to The Poisoned Chocolates Case, hold more water than this. In short: to be avoided by all readers of detective stories.





              FIELD, MOIRA

              FOREIGN BODY (1950)

              The reader’s first impression of a pleasant (if slow-moving) first effort detective story involving corpses impersonating Ruritanian ministers and vanishing policemen is soon belied as the story peters out into humdrum routine on the one hand and pure thriller on the other. The crimes are rather implausibly traced to a gang of blackmailers and drug smugglers operating from a foreign Legation and a private nursing home, and their plot an incoherent mess.





              FREEMAN, R. AUSTIN

              A SILENT WITNESS (1914)

              This fourth exploit of Dr. Thorndyke, the last until 1922, is steadfastly entertaining in its account of the doings of a mutton-headed and impetuous young medico, who stumbles upon disappearing corpses on Hampstead Heath and patients who die under suspicious circumstances in Jacob Street, and is nearly murdered for his troubles. Despite the excess of melodrama typical of the period and the extraordinary coincidences, many of the scenes are excellent, with just the right touch of the picturesque to suggest the “Baghdad-on-Thames” common to Stevenson, Carr and Freeman. Where the book suffers is by comparison to the later D’Arblay Mystery (1926), which reuses the plot to much greater effect. There are two surprising errors, the first on mirrors (p. 147 of the Stratus edition); the second, it does not stand to reason that only a professional criminal would wear gloves.





              GILBERT, ANTHONY

              THE BELL OF DEATH (1938)

              Anthony Gilbert is a rather muddled writer. As a writer, she has a vividness of phrase that recalls Allingham. Unlike Allingham, she cannot make the detective side of her story either interesting or appealing: she starts off splendidly with the murder of a tramp in a London church, suspicion falling on the mysterious verger. Having thus got off to a flying start, she then runs out of steam, with a vast and exceedingly dull man-hunt for a pair of kidnappers occupying the last half of the book. Had Hitchcock filmed this tale of the inner London underworld in his English career, he may have made something worthwhile out of it; as it is, it is forgettable.





              HEYER, GEORGETTE

              THE UNFINISHED CLUE (1934)

              The “unfinished clue” is the word “There,” written by General Billington-Smith, part of the name of the person who stabbed him to death in his study with “a curious Chinese dagger.” Despite the conventional setting and characters, both are very amusing. The Scotland Yard detective does nothing but listen to witnesses and fall in love with the victim’s sister-in-law, but there is a pleasingly complicated schedule of movements, the discrepancy in which reveals the most unlikely person as murderer.





              HILL, REGINALD

              DEATH’S JEST-BOOK (2002)

              A sequel to Dialogues of the Dead, and, like all sequels, disappointing. Hill has fallen into the Henry / P.D. James trap of believing that no story is worthwhile unless couched in ambiguous and introspective prose; hence, for the first three-quarters of the book, the greatest mystery is what the mystery actually is, for these pages merely set up plot strands without a plot. Naturally, the central plot (if there is one) is mediocre: a fairly standard jewellery heist, in which as chance (or authorial direction) would have it, Pascoe’s daughter is kidnapped. Pascoe himself has become obnoxious, and his obsession with Franny Roote, Hill’s King Charles’s Head for the last three books, irritates. The most irritating element, however, is Hill’s resolution to the problem set up by the identity of the Wordman at the end of Dialogues: SPOILER he avoids any sort of conflict, and kills off the Wordman (suicide / brain tumour), thus avoiding any emotion or interest. SPOILER ENDS





              INNES, MICHAEL

              APPLEBY ON ARARAT (1941)

              A very strange and silly book that yet succeeds in being entertaining, despite (or because of?) that very quality. The plot is as exotic and as lush as the setting: Appleby and a small group of Commonwealthers are shipwrecked on a Pacific island inhabited by sinister archaeologists, German spies and transvestites. Although there are the usual Innesian linguistic blocks (e.g., at one point the heroine is described as “being as yet unaware of being obscurely conscious of offence”), the book is remarkably well-written, even if steeped overmuch in Freud.



              FROM LONDON FAR (1946)

              Among Innes’s large and highly uneven output, this most gleeful and exuberant “thriller” stands out as one of his clearest triumphs. It is the diverting story of an innocent (middle-aged scholar named Meredith) abroad, plunged into murder (one of which he commits, the other he instigates) and crime (the doings of the International Society for the Diffusion of Cultural Objects), against a picturesque backdrop of warehouse, ruined castle and Highland moor, and a lunatic nouveau riche connoisseur’s American mansion. Dialogue splendid, and the humour makes this Innes’s funniest book: not only mild academic jests, but superb farce, largely provided by the pick of the gallery of certifiable lunatics: an endearing psychologist who is as mad as his patients (whom he believes have abducted him to be instructed in sexology), who begins by believing that the furniture vans that keep following him are psychosexual hallucinations; to keep himself sane, he refuses to believe in any of the
              adventures that ensue when he is kidnapped. Now there’s an idea for modern drama!



              OPERATION PAX (1951)

              The object of Operation Pax is to sap the will power and reduce populations to comatose vegetables, which is exactly the effect it has on the reader. After the bizarre but effective opening, involving the utterly contemptible conman Routh, it runs out of vim. The Oxford scenes are long-winded and singularly unamusing, populated by stereotyped dons and ghastly children of the sort that ought to be strangled at birth. When the action “shifts gear” into a more thrillerish line, the book becomes merely dull: chases and abductions are inadequate compensation for an absence of detective interest and the irrelevance of Appleby. At the end, a rather surprising villain is revealed, surprising only because the book relies, as it should never do, on a single clue.



              HARE SITTING UP (1959)

              Disappointing in the extreme. Although the opening chapter attractively imagines a world empty of people, with references to chemical weapons and the W.H.O. as relevant now as then, it soon peters out into mediocrity. The disappearance of a scientist (possibly with a vial of bacteria) leads Appleby on an episodic chase from a prep. school to a mad earl’s estate to an Atlantic island. The quarry turns out not to be hare, but wild goose, half-baked and tasteless.



              DEATH AT THE CHASE (1970)

              On the fourth page, Ashmore Chase is described as “horripilant like the porpentine against its foes,” a description that should alert the reader to the fact that this is Innes at his most verbose and obscure. Obviously he has confused himself with John Donne, for every paragraph is as much as conceit as the author’s writing of the novel. A few passages of wit in the middle sections are let down by the presence of three egregiously jejune and callow youths. Since the murder is committed three-quarters of the way through, and to the accompaniment of excessive coincidence and too many cardboard mad villains, there is little room for any interest in the crime, so the solution is as anti-climactic as it is unconvincing.



              THE AMPERSAND PAPERS (1978)

              The mixture of literary manuscripts, piratical treasure and noble eccentrics makes this typical late Innes, with far more speculation than either detection or action as Appleby investigates the fall of an archivist from the North Tower onto his head (and nearly on A.’s). SPOILER Although theories of “murder” abound, this turns out to be as ill-founded a belief as that in either of the treasures. SPOILER ENDS





              KEATING, H.R.F.

              DEATH OF A FAT GOD (1963)

              The author’s fifth book, and the last pre-Ghote. Here, the detective is the shrewd charwoman Mrs. Craggs, a genuinely amusing creation. Her companion, Miss Milhorne, is less so, and is rather wearing on the reader’s nerves and patience. The opera setting is well done, although not quite to the level of Edmund Crispin’s classic Swan Song; the opening, in which the arrogant Pivoine makes a mockery of Puccini, and the arrest of the Konstanze during the abduction from the seraglio itself, are both highly amusing. It is, however, neither Tosca nor Die Entführung aus dem Serail, but the titular Death of a Fat God, composed by Prokovinski (a relative of Prokofiev and Tchaikovski?) that is the focus. During the dress-rehearsal, the soprano is crushed to death by the chariot of the Fat God, the aforementioned Pivoine, so it seems likely that he was the intended victim. In Keating’s early style, there is more characterisation than detection, but some highly ingenious false theories are
              advanced. However, the end is rather rushed and the murderer’s identity somewhat arbitrary, but this is made up for by the clever but simple misdirection.



              THE PERFECT MURDER (1964)

              On his first appearance, Inspector Ghote, the Bombay-based creation of a writer who had never visited India, is more of an underdog than he would be in later books, where he would show determination and intelligence beneath his overwhelming sense of inferiority. The crime takes its name from that of the victim, secretary to the tycoon Lala Arun Varde; this is the only respect in which it is at all “perfect.” The tying-in of the crime with the ministerial theft is ingeniously handled. Despite the muddle (necessary to the plot), the book is a creditable entry in the series, with more detective interest than some of the earlier books, and, despite stonewalling and his inability to deal with authority, Ghote struggles through to what may be seen as a triumph, even if only “a triumph of the incompetent.”



              INSPECTOR GHOTE BREAKS AN EGG (1970)

              One of the author’s more minimalist tales, with some similarities to Hard Times. Ghote, disguised as a commercial traveller in eggs, is sent to a small town to investigate the fifteen-year old murder of the town boss’s wife, a process greatly complicated by corruption and a Swami starving himself to death. Since the near-omnipotent murderer is known from the beginning, the problem is: how to arrest him. There is a great deal of interest in the slow-moving tale, and the reader empathises so entirely with Ghote that his ultimate triumph is particularly satisfying.

              Query: Why doesn’t Ghote talk to the old woman so insistent on talking to him?



              INSPECTOR GHOTE DRAWS A LINE (1979)

              Unquestionably the best of the Ghote novels, and, were it not for the early and sadly forgotten The Dog It Was That Died, his masterpiece. Ghote, posing as research assistant Dr. Ghote, is sent to the heat-sweltering home of Sir Asif Ibrahim, a highly unpopular old judge notorious for condemning the Madurai Conspirators to death shortly before Independence, to protect the old man from death-threats. Since the Judge does not want police protection, Ghote’s battle of wits with the authority figure is not with the villain, but with the prospective victim: a particularly satisfying device. In the character of the Judge and his notion of duty, the book stands as one of the best examples of Anthony Berkeley’s maxim of the revelation of character, established in The Second Shot (1930): a concept more easily written about than written, for it took nearly fifty years for a first-class detective story of character to be written. Nor does the absence of blood and action mean that the novel
              is without suspense. The solution is an excellent use of the most unlikely person, with legitimate misdirection: the author plays on the assumptions of the reader, who, like Ghote, draws the line in the wrong place, thereby demonstrating the danger of rigid thinking, of preconceptions.



              UNDER A MONSOON CLOUD (1986)

              A rare “psychological thriller” from one of the few modern writers to whom detection and plotting are not filthy words. The reader sees through the eyes of Ghote the murder of Sgt. Desai by Ghote’s hero “Tiger” Kelkar, and his subsequent attempts to cover it up; one can understand why Ghote would become an accessory to murder, as his actions arise naturally from his character rather than from the sensationalist sexual psychology so beloved of the ghastly Rendell. He is a more rounded person than before: although he wishes to be found innocent, he is fully aware of his guilt, and is ashamed at the untruths he and others tell, and at employing Mrs. Ahmed, devoted to the truth, to disprove what she believes to be the lies, but he knows to be the truth, told by others. As well as examining the conflict of his professional duty to the truth vs. his duty to his family and to himself as a policeman, the novel is also a warning against anger: the root of all Ghote’s problems is a murder
              committed by a beast (Tiger) in a moment of rage, and Ghote’s siding with anger and hence rejecting the calmness of his mentor Nadkarni, forgetting that “Heated anger was surely a sign of a bad conscience.”







              LORAC, E.C.R.

              DEATH AT DYKE’S CORNER (1940)

              A thoroughly bad effort. The “English Woolworth” is found dead in his car of carbon monoxide poisoning, with much tedious detail of cars and petrol tanks. A possibly competent, if generic, story runs very quickly out of steam, and turns into the worst sort of humdrum, far more of a struggle to finish than Crofts, and totally devoid of merit. Further deaths, poison pen and arson are thrown in quite obviously to bulk up an insufficient plot, and the solution is old hat. Bad as this is, the book’s besetting sin is the foolish inconsistency. Lorac keeps changing her characters’ names (James or Ben Walsh? William or Ernest Stokes?), but the reader can easily keep track of them, as the author describes her characters in detail on every subsequent appearance. The crucial sketch map of the roads around Strand is useless, since half the roads mentioned in the story aren’t shown, and, if they are, the directions are invariably wrong.





              MCCLOY, HELEN

              THE GOBLIN MARKET (1943)

              The “goblin market” is the secret to preserve which an American journalist is murdered on the island of Santa Teresa in the early days of W.W.II. Despite the Nazi activity, submarines, street-fighting and secret codes, and the unusual level of violence, McCloy does not neglect construction of plot. Result: a very vivid and exciting detective story, reminiscent of Carr at his best. Detection by the journalist’s replacement, a mystery man, generally good (as one would expect from the author). The goblin market clue itself, though, is rather vague, and too similar to Ellery Queen. SPOILER Dr. Willing rather unnecessarily brought in at the end; since this appeared in the same year as Ngaio Marsh’s Colour Scheme, it would be interesting to know which came first. SPOILER ENDS





              MACDONALD, PHILIP

              THE CHOICE

              One of the author’s more forgettable tales. The unprovable impossible murder of Mrs. Hale-Storford provokes the wholesale massacre of the cardboard cut-outs staying in the house, one of them by a good method which John Rhode would later expand on in In Face of the Verdict, but, despite its extreme shortness, the book runs out of steam well before the end, becoming a thrillerish manhunt with much rushing about by rail and car, rather than ratiocination and deduction. The solution to the original death turns out a disappointment.





              MARSH, NGAIO

              A MAN LAY DEAD (1934)

              A preposterous tale that can only be excused by the fact that it was the author’s apprentice work, obviously to Sayers and Christie. The situation is wholly generic: murder done under cover of ‘The Murder Game,’ and all the suspects have cast-iron alibis. The murderer’s is clever rather than convincing, but even this is undone by the complete absence of clues. It is not, however, the central murder that damns the novel, but the sheer badness of the extraneous elements. The facetiousness is embarrassing: Alleyn and Bathgate are at the nadir of their ingenuousness, while the passages with grubby brats are irritating in the extreme. The final straw is the intrusive and irrelevant “Russian element,” which badly dates the tale; indeed, the preposterous bratsvo-torture scenes are reminiscent of Walling and Wallace at their worst. The previous owner showed his disappointment by scribbling Cyrillics in the margins.



              DEATH AT THE BAR (1939)
              One of Marsh’s most tightly-knit jobs. Victim a famous K.C., poisoned with KNC in the private taproom of a Devon inn while taking part in a demonstration of darts-throwing; plenty of good circumstantial detail leads to supposition of impossible crime. Alleyn, called in both by publican and by local police, does a fast job (24 hours) of discovering murderer, whose identity is a masterly demonstration in diverting suspicion from the most likely person. Method ingeniously simple, and hence convincing: a very neat job. Virtuoso display of logic at the end, including a delightful false solution propounded by a most amusing Chief Constable.



              DEATH AND THE DANCING FOOTMAN (1942)

              Seven guests are chosen by their fiend-like host by reason of their mutual enmity and are imprisoned in a snow-bound country house to see what results from their tension and mounting hysteria; which is, of course, murder. Throughout, one is conscious of straining for effect, and, until the murder, the reader will find this one of the author’s most tedious and uninspired jobs since the early books. The matter is not helped by a particularly irritating hero, a snobbish and precious aesthete, nor by Alleyn’s late appearance, after which he does little except talk to witnesses. After the murder, if one can accept the large doses of hysteria, both masculine and feminine, the book becomes quite solid, and there is a novel twist on the alibi by wireless gimmick.





              MITCHELL, GLADYS

              SAY IT WITH FLOWERS (1960)

              A rather dull story in which Dame Beatrice ineffectually investigates the finding of a Roman or Saxon skeleton that turns out to be a modern one, the discovery of more corpses near Hadrian’s Wall and on top of the Manor House Tower, and the drowning of a boatman. Unfortunately, despite characteristic wit, the simultaneous police and amateur investigations are equally boring, and it is very difficult to care why or how the egregious Bohemian should have committed the murders. The plot is full of gaping holes: Having buried the skeleton, why should Phlox dig it up again? If the body near Hadrian’s Wall is not Hilary Beads’s, whose is it, and what relevance does it have to the plot? If it is, then how on earth does it come to be discovered decomposing on top of the tower? Very sloppy work.





              NASH, SIMON

              UNHALLOWED MURDER (1966)

              A mixture of Satanism, old books and religious fanaticism disguises the essential thinness of plot in a detective story in which there is no real reason to suspect one person any more than another. Fortunately the plot thickens like a witches’ brew before the end, and the “occult” is sensibly handled without undue sensationalism. The final solution is arbitrary, and the alibi not altogether convincing: SPOILER (INCLUDING PLAGUE COURT MURDERS) would a woman move like a man, even an old one? A boy (c.f. The Plague Court Murders) is more believable. SPOILER ENDS





              PUNSHON, E.R.

              THE COTTAGE MURDER (1931)

              So vivid is his writing and so powerful his imagination that Punshon occasionally promises more than he delivers. The Cottage Murder opens very effectively in a dark cottage in a storm where a wireless plays over the dead body of the hero's uncle, watched over by a mysterious woman with whom the hero falls in love at first sight. Unfortunately, the rest of the book does not live up to this excellent scene, and there are definite signs of backsliding after the excellent Proof, Counter Proof. The plot is as complex as its predecessor, but not handled so well, for there is less detection and more thrillerish elements, and, despite evidence pointing towards the aristocracy, this reworking of a theme from the earlier book is uninteresting. Although the truth dawns on the reader at the same time as Bell, the solution is as unconvincing as H.C. Bailey's "THE LION FISH": SPOILER

              A pillar of society is revealed to be a vicious drug dealer, who imprisons the hero and heroine in the coal-cellar and tries to set them on fire, a clichéd scene which not even a meditation on love in the face of death can make believable. On being rescued, they live happily ever after on the drug money.



              DEATH COMES TO CAMBERS (1935)

              My first encounter with Sergeant Bobby Owen, here a guest of Lady Cambers, whom he finds strangled on the village field. Although the detection is somewhat sketchy in parts, this is a more orthodox story, and hence more pleasing, than the Carter and Bell series. We are given a good domestic tangle, with a great number of vivid characters to suspect, including a splendidly mad creationist and an arrogant archaeologist. The plot is elaborate, but the pieces fit together as neatly as vintage Carr or Christie, and the closely reasoned solution is very logical and satisfying, with a pleasingly original alibi. Other good features include an ingenious cipher, an amusingly obtuse Chief Constable (another unpleasant authority figure in Punshon's work), and writing that is sharp and to the point, without the necessity of deciphering quasi-Victorian verbose verbiage. In short, one of the three best detective stories I have read so far this year.



              THE BATH MYSTERIES (1936)

              An unusually sinister tale from this highly gifted author. Since the Home Secretary used to deliver milk to Lord Hirlpool’s father, Bobby Owen is assigned to investigate the death of his cousin, boiled alive in his bath, the second of three “bath mysteries,” victims of a sinister conspiracy that ranks with that of the Pale Horse. Having discovered this conspiracy, however, Bobby is surprisingly obtuse, for the murderer is obvious from very early on, particularly to those who have read the author’s earlier Cottage Murder (1931). Although rather slow moving, the reader’s interest is kept by the sustained excellence of Punshon’s writing, which is nearly as good as G.K. Chesterton’s. A very real atmosphere of horror is suggested by his queer turns of phrase and grotesque characters, among whom Percy Lawrence is notably convincing.





              RHODE, JOHN

              THE CLAVERTON MYSTERY (1933)

              One of Rhode’s undoubted classics. Dr. Priestley is both mentally and physically alert as he investigates the death of his friend Sir John Claverton, a near-perfect murder; indeed, so foolproof and unprovable is the method used that Dr. P. is forced to resort to a theatrical (if effective) séance in order to extract a confession, and one wonders whether the murderer would have been suspected had he not been forced by the conditions of Claverton’s will to attempt a second (and obvious) murder. Surprisingly for Rhode, the interest of the book does not lie wholly in the plot, for Street’s writing is excellent, both drawing original characters (the Littlecotes; Dr. Oldland—Rhode could draw character, but his regulars, such as Merefield, became more stick-like as time went on) and steeping the book in spiritualistic gloom.



              HENDON’S FIRST CASE (1935)

              Noteworthy not so much for its intrinsic value, which is slight, as for its introduction of Jimmy Waghorn, one of the Poole-Owen brigade. Unfortunately, he is singularly obtuse: it takes him a while to tumble to the truth about the study explosion, and, trusting the murderer, he gets himself poisoned. There is very little Priestley until the end, although he it is who cracks the code and, in spite of excessive coincidence, solves the problem. One presumes his familiarity with the Claverton mystery would have been of use.



              DEATH OF AN AUTHOR (1947)

              The author is a recluse living in a quiet village, and is blown up while chopping wood. With the second murder and its accompanying alibis, and a rather gruesome and sensationalistic third murder, the plot becomes extremely baffling. Plenty of ingenious complications keep the reader interested in the plot and hesitating between three good suspects, and the book benefits from the absence of fat: none of those apt-to-become-tedious speculative sessions with Priestley, who contributes very little. Where the book fails is in the solution: Waghorn pulls the solution out of a hat, with none of those pyrotechnic mental fireworks we expect from Priestley, but fireworks of a very different kind. For this reason, the solution is rather thrillerish, and unconvincing: indeed, rather artificial, and a disappointing ending for what began as a good tangle.





              BURTON, MILES

              DEATH IN SHALLOW WATER (1948)

              The plot concerns not so much an epidemic of drowning in an English village as one of stupidity. None of the characters seem to possess any intellectual faculties: after three people (an irascible shipowner, his amusingly selfish wife, and an eremitical handyman) all drown in shallow water, the local Superintendent still believes in accident, and is quite content to believe that hair lotions usually contain chloroform until this error is pointed out to him by his slightly less dense constable (or perhaps not less, for he believes the fourth drowning to be accident). He should take comfort from the fact that he is not alone in his witlessness, for Burton’s usual pair are well below par: rather than detecting, Arnold makes up preposterous theories and takes deep whiffs of chloroform without any noticeable effect (we will forbear from commenting on his customary mental state), and Merrion, onstage for fifteen pages, pulls the solution out of a hat after laying a trap for a villain
              (guessable from page 75) who is quite content to drown half the village without any fear of arousing suspicion, since chloroform appears to leave no trace.





              STRONG, L.A.G.

              WHICH I NEVER (1950)

              An example of the “donnish school” at its worst: the author’s desire to write what he thinks of as humour causes him to neglect common sense and logical plotting. The favourable impression given by the style, as vigorous and entertaining as Crispin at his best, is ruined by the realisation (which comes but a little later) that the author is as good a plotter as Crispin at his best: the detective McKay, bright and facetious in the early Wimbles vein, does far more talking than ’teccing. The plot, which involves a crooked publishing scam, innumerable missing girls, espionage and anonymous practical joke letters, is unconvincing and dotty without the dots joining up properly, and without any notion of fair play clueing. Perhaps the author recognised the substantial demerit of the work, for, concluding it, he described it as “a muddle from start to finish… All loose ends. An exhibition of our inefficiency and incompetence.”

              One can only imagine that Julian Symons’s admiration for the book is due to the fact that the murderer is a psychopath who rapes a girl to destroy her soul. Charming.





              WADE, HENRY

              THE VERDICT OF YOU ALL (1926)

              The author’s first novel. Although not a classic, it is clear that Wade knows how to construct a detective story, with ingenious complications (some of which, unfortunately, are left unexplained) and red herrings, and how to make the plodding detection of the Crofts school genuinely interesting. The identity of the person who coshed the financier in his study is as obvious from the beginning as the alibi, but there is still plenty of interest in the tale.



              THE HANGING CAPTAIN (1932)

              The hanging captain’s death is believed to be a suicide (possibly due to impotence, a desire to frame his wife’s lover, or financial difficulties), until a Priestleyish guest proves murder, much to the horror of the Chief Constable, who wishes to hush it all up. There are only two suspects, who, of course, each need a detective to follow their trail: an interesting technique that, dividing the reader’s sympathies between the cocky and impetuous Lott and the unimaginatively logical Dawle, focuses the interest on the detection without the need for any silly most unlikely culprit. Despite the central plateau where Lott checks the High Sheriff’s theatrical Birmingham alibi, one can only applaud Wade’s cunning manipulation of alibis, motives and circumstantial evidence.

              Why doesn’t Lott consider that the Braston tyre mark could have been made before the night of the crime?





              WITTING, CLIFFORD

              THE CASE OF THE MICHAELMAS GOOSE (1938)

              As Witting wrote Measure for Murder, so this ought to be termed Much Ado About Nothing. There is a great deal of routine detection, including the longest time schedule I have come across in a detective story (six pages), but it never amounts to anything. The villains are introduced at the beginning of the second part, never having been mentioned before, and, in addition to the unfairness, it is also extremely disappointing to discover that the murder was committed by a pair of nasty but essentially dull old lags dabbling in forgery. This results in an anti-climax. Charlton does very little thinking, but much amorous soul-searching and mirror-gazing, as well as knocking a witness unconscious in the middle of an argument; and the exceptionally violent ending (guns a-blazing) doesn’t sit at all well with the stolid progression of the bulk of the book. Despite pleasant wit and writing, essentially mediocre.



              To sum up, the three best detective stories of the year so far are: Cut Throat (Christopher Bush), The Murder of Sir Edmund Godfrey (John Dickson Carr), and Death Comes to Cambers (E.R. Punshon), all first-class books by first-class writers.



              Nick



              'There is no past tense in the conjugation of genius, especially when it has left us whatever of itself can be conveyed by the printed page.'--Gladys Mitchell, Death and the Maiden (1947).


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            • Nicholas Fuller
              Dear Richard, Thank you for your comments on my reviews. I always look forward to yours, which are always full of wit and illuminating comments, often on
              Message 6 of 16 , Jul 9, 2003
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                Dear Richard,

                Thank you for your comments on my reviews. I always look forward to yours, which are always full of wit and illuminating comments, often on writers or books I have read. Indeed, your wonderful review of The Puzzle Lock has made me decide to read it after The Ellerby Case (which I heartily recommend to another admirer of Major Street; this is one of Rhode's best and (quite literally) Dr. Priestley's prickliest case).

                Nick


                'There is no past tense in the conjugation of genius, especially when it has left us whatever of itself can be conveyed by the printed page.'--Gladys Mitchell, Death and the Maiden (1947).


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              • RICHARD LIEDHOLM
                Nick- And thank you for your generous comments. As it happens, The Ellerby Case is one that I own: it sits about five feet from my desk. I shall put it high
                Message 7 of 16 , Jul 9, 2003
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                  Nick- And thank you for your generous comments. As it happens, The Ellerby Case is one that I own: it sits about five feet from my desk. I shall put it high on my list. In the meantime, I am finishing Rhode's Dead on the Track, which I will comment on a bit later, and on the docket is Burton's The Man With the Tattooed Face. Also, on my 'immediate' pile to read is Berkeley's The Mystery at Lover's Cave (a.k.a Roger Sheringham and the Vane Mystery). Have you, or anyone else out there, read this book? Anyone care to share a comment or two? This is a very rare Berkeley book and, unfortunately, not included on the re-print list from House of Stratus. I've often wondered why...

                  All my best!

                  Richard

                  ----- Original Message -----
                  From: Nicholas Fuller
                  Sent: Wednesday, July 09, 2003 6:50 PM
                  To: GAdetection@yahoogroups.com
                  Subject: Re: [GAdetection] Reviews

                  Dear Richard,

                  Thank you for your comments on my reviews. I always look forward to yours, which are always full of wit and illuminating comments, often on writers or books I have read. Indeed, your wonderful review of The Puzzle Lock has made me decide to read it after The Ellerby Case (which I heartily recommend to another admirer of Major Street; this is one of Rhode's best and (quite literally) Dr. Priestley's prickliest case).

                  Nick


                  'There is no past tense in the conjugation of genius, especially when it has left us whatever of itself can be conveyed by the printed page.'--Gladys Mitchell, Death and the Maiden (1947).


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                • Nicholas Fuller
                  No, that Berkeley is one of the only two I haven t read (the other is Mr. Priestley s Problem). It s probably much better than Berkeley s first two novels,
                  Message 8 of 16 , Jul 9, 2003
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                    No, that Berkeley is one of the only two I haven't read (the other is Mr. Priestley's Problem). It's probably much better than Berkeley's first two novels, both of which were fairly bad.

                    Nick


                    'There is no past tense in the conjugation of genius, especially when it has left us whatever of itself can be conveyed by the printed page.'--Gladys Mitchell, Death and the Maiden (1947).


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                  • mike5568
                    I wondered about the Vane Mystery by Berkeley not being reprinted by Stratus also. In 2001, I asked them if they would be reprinting it and they said yes, in
                    Message 9 of 16 , Jul 9, 2003
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                      I wondered about the Vane Mystery by Berkeley not being reprinted by
                      Stratus also. In 2001, I asked them if they would be reprinting it
                      and they said yes, in a couple months and would let me know when it
                      was availabile. Then in late 2001, I asked again and was told they
                      would be reprinting it, but didn`t know when. I guess they just
                      decided not to. I know I`ve seen a review or two about it around
                      somewhere, and it sounded like a good book. It will pop up on Ebay
                      every 6 months or so but always for $100 or more. So Richard, I
                      will be looking forward to your review of it. MikeB
                    • RICHARD LIEDHOLM
                      Nick- Having a new set of reviews from you is not unlike a visit from a friend who s been away on vacation. Despite the fact that we disagree (completely
                      Message 10 of 16 , Sep 22, 2003
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                        Nick- Having a new set of reviews from you is not unlike a visit from a friend who's been away on vacation. Despite the fact that we disagree (completely disagree) about Freeman's 'The Appiration of Burling Court' I find that I am in complete agreement of your assessments of the Allingham books and Inne's Lament For a Maker, which I feel is one of the greatest mystery novels of the 20th century. It is, at the very least, one of the most literary... I especially like your reviews because they introduce me to many books that I haven't heard of, and most certainly have not read. I would like to point out that The Lake House was the second Rhode I ever read (back in the late 80s). The first, The Fire at Greycombe Farm, was enjoyable but not as memorable as I hoped. But then I read The Lake House, and I thought this was a highly enjoyable book. I, too, was able to spot the 'killer' but that did not prepare me for the very clever ending, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

                        I suppose it might be considered 'spooky' if we agree on ALL books and stories... By the way, I am re-reading Carr's The Corpse in the Waxworks after fifteen years and it is an amazing exeperience, as all of his greater books are. Do you remember a chill running down your spine as Carr describes the axe-murderess ghost following the young girl downstairs towards the Gallery of Horrors?? Wow, Carr was working on full cylinders on this one!
                        Take care, Nick. And nice reviews, as always!

                        Richard

                        ----- Original Message -----
                        From: Nicholas Fuller
                        Sent: Monday, September 22, 2003 8:02 PM
                        To: GAdetection@yahoogroups.com
                        Subject: [GAdetection] Reviews


                        ALLINGHAM, MARGERY

                        THE FASHION IN SHROUDS (1938)

                        One of the author’s most accomplished novels. At once an elegant and deftly-observed social satire in the manner of Thackeray and an ingeniously complicated detective story, the book is virtually flawless. Campion is in superb form throughout, both as detective pitting his wits against a superhuman Nemesis of a murderer, and as a lover (even going to the extent of throwing his fiancée in the lake during a quarrel); Lugg is as amusing as ever; and there is much interest in the character and methods of the villain, “who can set the murderous Machiavel to school,” weaving webs of a subtlety and diabolical ingenuity matched only by those of his creator.



                        THE TIGER IN THE SMOKE (1952)

                        Despite the blurb and critical praise, this late novel is really no more than a thriller, not a “crime novel.” As a thriller, it is quite successful, with some notably tense scenes in the London fog, although the finish on the French cliffs makes very little impact, and the plot, with its mixture of albinos, hunchbacks and dwarves, psychopathic ex-Commandos, saintly canons and buried treasure, is preposterous in the extreme. As a novel, it is less successful. Jack Havoc never comes across as the truly wicked man all the other character say he is, and the famous scene in the church is grossly over-rated. Thus, a rather pretentious return to the author’s early ‘plum pudding’ approach combined with her late style, which is often very good but equally often requires close and careful reading to avoid headache (particularly in the scenes with the ghastly ex-service men).



                        THE MIND READERS (1965)

                        One of Allingham’s few (mercifully few) outstanding failures. The plot is a mess, with a lot of needless complications (all recounted in Allingham’s obscure manner that makes Gladys Mitchell look sober and straightforward) failing to disguise the fact that there is no actual plot to speak of. The murderer is known very early on, revealed and killed some chapters before the end, which is an anti-climax rivalled only by the behaviour of Albert Campion.





                        CONNINGTON, J.J.

                        TRAGEDY AT RAVENSTHORPE (1927)

                        Sir Clinton’s second case presents him with rather a tangled situation: two (or more?) robberies (one a practical joke), two murders and a disappearance. Although the fabulous artistic treasure (here a set of da Vinci medallions) is an old device, the set-up augurs well for admirers of the 1920s domestic detective story. Unfortunately the plot is a mess of ideas ingeniously contrived (the statue, the “family curse” of agoraphobia) but very poorly handled. The most glaring example is the agoraphobic suicide of Maurice Chacewater, which could (and should) have been used as the central idea for an ingeniously horrible murder along Chestertonian lines (c.f. “The Eye of Apollo”), but is instead tacked on to the central plot, which, in its reliance on a criminal gang of characters the reader is scarcely aware of, is quite disappointing.





                        FREEMAN, R. AUSTIN

                        THE PUZZLE LOCK (1925)

                        A good Thorndyke collection comprising nine stories, set either in London or on the Kentish coast. The best story is certainly “Rex v. Burnaby,” which offers a method of poisoning (by belladonna) nearly as clever as John Rhode’s Vegetable Duck. “Phyllis Annesley’s Peril” is obvious but oh so ingenious in its description of how unbiased witnesses can, in all good faith, observe something which isn’t there; interestingly, it is related to Sayers’s “The Haunted Policeman” and John Dickson Carr’s The Bride of Newgate. The title story is an entertaining account of professional crime (burglary) and a safe that opens to a chronogram, allowing Thorndyke to demonstrate his genius at code-breaking. In the same way, “A Mystery of the Sand-Hills” displays the sleuth’s ability to reason from sand and sea; full of good Thorndykean detection, but the plot is rather obscure. Analysis of dust and sand found on “The Green Check Jacket” allows Thorndyke to discover two murders caused by a will; a
                        will is also at the root of the problem in that other account of physical detection, “The Mysterious Visitor.” The three remaining stories are much weaker. “A Sower of Pestilence” is too improbable and unmotivated a villain to carry conviction, and his plot is incredible, while the theft of “The Seal of Nebuchadnezzar” makes for a rather dull tale. The very worst, though, is “The Apparition of Burling Court,” which is in almost every respect a reworking of “The Mandarin’s Pearl,” and hence not worth the bother. (Sorry, Richard!)





                        HEYER, GEORGETTE

                        DUPLICATE DEATH (1951)

                        A better detective story than others by this author I've read. Inspector Hemingway does a good job of discovering the persons who strangled a blackmailer / drug-dealer and his mistress. The identity of the first murderer comes as a distinct surprise, although the alert reader will latch onto the second murderer as soon as the Marriages and Legitimacy Act is mentioned. Several good red herrings, a nice use of the drug trade, and plenty of wit and amusing characters (Insp. Grant, Cynthia Haddington, Lord Guisborough) make this a memorable tale.





                        HILL, REGINALD

                        ARMS AND THE WOMEN (2000)

                        A departure for Hill: a book of pure fantasy, in the Innesian manner. Pascoe’s wife Ellie finds herself threatened—by the Secret Service? By Colombian terrorists? By the IRA?—but copes by writing a parody of Homer in which Ulysses and Aeneas represent Dalziel and Pasoce. Entertainment abounds, although the plot is too wild and wheeling to really pass muster—which is what one may expect when the author weaves his plot around Cymbeline!

                        Franny Roote appears, only to cut his wrists. A pity he didn’t do the job properly.





                        HILTON, JAMES

                        MURDER AT SCHOOL (1931)

                        As one would expect from the author of Goodbye, Mr. Chips, this detective story (the author’s sole) is set in a minor public school (Oakington). The victims are two present-day Oakingtonians, brothers, and one of the masters, and the detective is an old Oakingtonian, Colin Revell, in the mould of Trent and Sheringham. Hilton writes with wit and verve, and his character studies are uniformly excellent, while the false theories he devises show considerable ingenuity and make it a great pity that this was his only work in the genre. As it is, I ‘guessed’ the murderer’s identity very early on, but remained entertained until the end.





                        INNES, MICHAEL

                        LAMENT FOR A MAKER (1938)

                        One of the true classics of the detective fantasy, this, Innes’s masterpiece, recalls Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast series in its denseness, doom-laden atmosphere which achieves its greatest effects by making the horrible amusing and the amusing horrible, and the delight in the English (or Scots) language. The plot is beautifully constructed, every narrative solving the previous narrative’s questions and posing new ones in a manner reminiscent of Carr’s Arabian Nights Murder, yet the final solution comes as a distinct surprise (despite certain resemblances to Bentley’s Trent’s Last Case). Wonderful.





                        MITCHELL, GLADYS

                        PAGEANT OF MURDER (1965)

                        The pageant on display here offers rather a sorry spectacle, akin to mangy toothless lions and geriatric tightrope-walkers. Although the three murders seem to have something theatrically extravagant in their appearance, behind the gaudy costumes and elaborate stage-setting is nothing more than a rather dull series of murders, committed by a villain we hardly know for reasons that seem insufficient in a manner that is unconvincing. The star performer, Dame Beatrice Bradley, hardly appears, and, however good company Laura Gavin and Kitty Trevelyan-Twigg may be, they are really no more than understudies. Unsurprisingly, the audience is not amused.





                        PUNSHON, E.R.

                        DIABOLIC CANDELABRA (1942)

                        There is more than a hint of the Brothers Grimm in this story of a mysterious hermit living in the woods, a wild girl who talks to animals, her wicked stepfather, two disappearances, two El Greco paintings and a Cellini (the “Diabolic Candelabra” of the title). Like the Babes in the Wood or Hansel and Gretel, the plot takes the reader into the very midst of a forest of confusing branches and paths, with a surprise around every corner—yet the complexities are more rewarding than overwhelming, demonstrating the simple fact that in the construction of mazes, Punshon’s only rival was John Dickson Carr (and what could be higher praise?). The murderer is very difficult to spot—the alert reader will require a good hour of solid thinking to arrive at the correct conclusion, and will be very pleased with himself for doing so. Like all good fairy-tales: spell-binding.





                        RHODE, JOHN

                        THE ELLERBY CASE (1927)

                        On their third appearance, Dr. Priestley and Harold Merefield are both notably active, nearly losing their lives due to the machinations of a murderous dealer in contraband saccharine whom Priestley recognises as one of the most rational and far-seeing murderers he has encountered. And such ingenuity the murderer shows fully bears out Dr. Priestley’s assessment of his opponent, for who but a genius would think of murder by bore or (O porpentine mirabilis!) by green hedgehog? The thriller element is far superior to that in the more popular Murders in Praed Street: Priestley thinks his way to the solution, discovering both the method of distribution and the identity of the culprit (unlike Praed Street, where he is taken by surprise at the glaringly obvious). These are disclosed to the reader one chapter after he has determined for himself who the individual is and how he operates; one of Rhode’s greatest gifts is to assume the reader’s intelligence, and not to blithely end every
                        book with the (often insulting) surprise solution which the reader foresaw from Chapter III.



                        TRAGEDY AT THE UNICORN (1928)

                        A disappointing tale that shows that Rhode hadn’t fully come to terms with the detective genre. There is a laudable attempt in the first half of the book to write a pure detective story in the vein of Agatha Christie, with several fresh red herrings teeming in the waters of Clayport, the coastal port where the unpleasant Dr. Grinling is murdered. In an unfortunate return to Rhode’s earlier style, however, the second half consists of passages lifted from Erskine Childers and Crofts’s Pit-Prop Syndicate. The final solution is badly anti-climactic.



                        THE LAKE HOUSE (1946)

                        One of Rhode’s classics. Although the murderer is guessable from Chapter 3, there is plenty of interest in the working-out of a diabolical plan, and a great deal of variety in pace and action (including a good courtroom scene). Characterisation decidedly above average for Rhode, although the murderer is perhaps over-characterised, since his character traits reveal his plot—still, one can understand why he behaves as he does, rather than waking up one morning with the desire to kill Uncle Rufus with a complicate device involving a bar of soap, three guinea-pigs and a coil of electric wire.





                        WILLIAMS, VALENTINE

                        SKELETON OUT OF THE CUPBOARD (1946)

                        At first glance this story, although written in 1946 and set in 1939, may have something of the ambience of Styles Court about it, with its large house, melodramatic events and slow pace. It soon develops into a good domestic tangle, which has its origins in the sinking of a ship in 1919, and keeps its interest despite an idiotically naïve and gushing American narratrix and the Carrian turbulent emotional state of the household. Mr. Treadgold is pleasant company enough, although his detection is, despite the complexity of the case, rather simple, and his solution to the fourth murder is highly intuitive and irrational.



                        Best regards,



                        Nick Fuller (his first message in a month...)



                        'There is no past tense in the conjugation of genius, especially when it has left us whatever of itself can be conveyed by the printed page.'--Gladys Mitchell, Death and the Maiden (1947).


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                      • Mary Reed
                        GADers! I say, Mike, thanks for the kind words . I am new to reviewing so they are most encouraging and yes, I *will* be posting more as I go along.
                        Message 11 of 16 , Mar 13, 2007
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                          GADers!

                          I say, Mike, thanks for the kind words <blush>. I am new to reviewing so
                          they are most encouraging and yes, I *will* be posting more as I go along.
                          This warning means those onlist still have time to leave the country....

                          As ever
                          Mary R
                        • Mary Reed
                          GADers! Let me clarify the position about my scribbles. Not being able to access Wiki due to age of horse drawn machine, I was thrilled when Steve offered them
                          Message 12 of 16 , Jul 22, 2007
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                            GADers!

                            Let me clarify the position about my scribbles. Not being able to access
                            Wiki due to age of horse drawn machine, I was thrilled when Steve offered
                            them a home in his Mystery*File site, the more so as I only began writing
                            reviews when I joined the GAD list. However, neither Steve nor I have any
                            objection if anyone wants to upload any reviews I send to this list into
                            Wiki, and that applies before or after they show up on M*F.

                            I have just returned to about l70 emails so am slowly working my way down
                            them...so if any other matters have been raised, I will eventually get to
                            them and am not ignoring you, honest!

                            As ever
                            Mary R
                          • alanjbishop1
                            I would like to point out that my site - www.criminal-history.co.uk - is always on the look-out for reviews written by readers other than the editor (i.e. me).
                            Message 13 of 16 , Jul 24, 2007
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                              I would like to point out that my site - www.criminal-history.co.uk -
                              is always on the look-out for reviews written by readers other than the
                              editor (i.e. me). While I have an unfeasibly large amount of talent
                              ( ;-) ), I appreciate other peoples views and experiences.
                            • Mary Reed
                              PPPAGers! To add to Mike s list of interesting reading the newly uploaded I Love A Mystery Newsletter s Classic Corner has a selection of reviews of interest.
                              Message 14 of 16 , Aug 29, 2008
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                                PPPAGers!

                                To add to Mike's list of interesting reading the newly uploaded I Love A
                                Mystery Newsletter's Classic Corner has a selection of reviews of
                                interest. They include comments on Gladys Mitchell's Tom Brown's Body
                                and Catherine Aird's The Stately Home Murder and a bunch on Ian Fleming
                                works.

                                http://www.iloveamysterynewsletter.com/I_LOVE_A_MYSTERY_2ND_WEBSITE/CLASSIC_CORNER.html

                                Mary R
                                http://home.epix.net/~maywrite
                              • Enrique F. Bird
                                Mary and other friends, Do not forget that the Aird and Mitchell books are just reprinted in fine trade paperback editions by our friends Tom and Enid and
                                Message 15 of 16 , Aug 29, 2008
                                • 0 Attachment
                                  Mary and other friends,



                                  Do not forget that the Aird and Mitchell books are just reprinted in fine
                                  trade paperback editions by our friends Tom and Enid and their magnificent
                                  Rue Morgue Press editions! They have just listed their releases for the
                                  coming months and I just pre-ordered a ton of them from Amazon!



                                  Best regards,



                                  Enrique F. Bird Picó



                                  _____

                                  From: GAdetection@yahoogroups.com [mailto:GAdetection@yahoogroups.com] On
                                  Behalf Of Mary Reed
                                  Sent: Friday, August 29, 2008 12:14 PM
                                  To: GAdetection@yahoogroups.com
                                  Subject: [GAdetection] Reviews




                                  PPPAGers!

                                  To add to Mike's list of interesting reading the newly uploaded I Love A
                                  Mystery Newsletter's Classic Corner has a selection of reviews of
                                  interest. They include comments on Gladys Mitchell's Tom Brown's Body
                                  and Catherine Aird's The Stately Home Murder and a bunch on Ian Fleming
                                  works.

                                  http://www.iloveamy
                                  <http://www.iloveamysterynewsletter.com/I_LOVE_A_MYSTERY_2ND_WEBSITE/CLASSIC
                                  _CORNER.html>
                                  sterynewsletter.com/I_LOVE_A_MYSTERY_2ND_WEBSITE/CLASSIC_CORNER.html

                                  Mary R
                                  http://home. <http://home.epix.net/~maywrite> epix.net/~maywrite





                                  [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
                                • Robin Richmond
                                  We would like to point out that you can obtain cheaper copies from crime fiction specialist dealers like ourselves. We mail out of Scotland and USA. Want lists
                                  Message 16 of 16 , Aug 29, 2008
                                  • 0 Attachment
                                    We would like to point out that you can obtain cheaper copies from crime fiction specialist dealers like ourselves. We mail out of Scotland and USA. Want lists very welcome.

                                    Marion and Robin Richmond

                                    Ming Books Wigtown Scotland

                                    The Home of Golden Age Crime

                                    Web site http://www.mingbooks.co.uk
                                                  http://www.mingbooks.pbwiki.com

                                    info@...
                                    mingbooks@...

                                    telephone 01988403241   Beechwood Acre Place
                                    Wigtown DG8 9DU
                                    SCOTLAND    also in Rahway New Jersey  USA

                                    twenty six years in business 1982-2008

                                    Members of IOBA

                                    Wants lists very welcome


                                    --- On Fri, 8/29/08, Enrique F. Bird <enfbirdp@...> wrote:
                                    From: Enrique F. Bird <enfbirdp@...>
                                    Subject: RE: [GAdetection] Reviews
                                    To: GAdetection@yahoogroups.com
                                    Date: Friday, August 29, 2008, 6:33 PM











                                    Mary and other friends,



                                    Do not forget that the Aird and Mitchell books are just reprinted in fine

                                    trade paperback editions by our friends Tom and Enid and their magnificent

                                    Rue Morgue Press editions! They have just listed their releases for the

                                    coming months and I just pre-ordered a ton of them from Amazon!



                                    Best regards,



                                    Enrique F. Bird Picó



                                    _____



                                    From: GAdetection@ yahoogroups. com [mailto:GAdetection@ yahoogroups. com] On

                                    Behalf Of Mary Reed

                                    Sent: Friday, August 29, 2008 12:14 PM

                                    To: GAdetection@ yahoogroups. com

                                    Subject: [GAdetection] Reviews



                                    PPPAGers!



                                    To add to Mike's list of interesting reading the newly uploaded I Love A

                                    Mystery Newsletter's Classic Corner has a selection of reviews of

                                    interest. They include comments on Gladys Mitchell's Tom Brown's Body

                                    and Catherine Aird's The Stately Home Murder and a bunch on Ian Fleming

                                    works.



                                    http://www.iloveamy

                                    <http://www.iloveamy sterynewsletter. com/I_LOVE_ A_MYSTERY_ 2ND_WEBSITE/ CLASSIC

                                    _CORNER.html>

                                    sterynewsletter. com/I_LOVE_ A_MYSTERY_ 2ND_WEBSITE/ CLASSIC_CORNER. html



                                    Mary R

                                    http://home. <http://home. epix.net/ ~maywrite> epix.net/~maywrite



                                    [Non-text portions of this message have been removed]





























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