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Posts Tagged ‘Anthony Berkeley’

The Silk Stocking Murders: A Detective Story Club Classic Crime Novel (The Detective Club)

This is an extremely clever classic mystery featuring Roger Sheringham.  He receives a letter from a Dorset clergyman asking him to find out what has happened to his daughter who seems to have disappeared in London.  Roger’s interest is aroused and he soon discovers that the girl is already dead – apparently she committed suicide but Roger isn’t convinced.

When other girls seem to have followed the dead girl’s method in all its details even though not all the details were revealed to the public it becomes clear that there is a serial killer at work and Roger and his friends as well as Scotland Yard must work together to track down the killer before he strikes again.  I have to admit I was pretty sure I knew who the murderer was very early on but it didn’t spoil my enjoyment of the story as it was interesting to see who the killer was tracked down.

I think the denouement is one of the most frightening things I’ve read for a long time.  My only criticism of the book is that there is no real psychological explanation for the killer’s actions which would of course have been present if the book had been first published today.  In spite of the absence of the psychology it is still worth reading for the plot and the way the tiny details all build up to make a case.

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The Wychford Poisoning Case: A Detective Story Club Classic Crime Novel (The Detective Club)

Mrs Bentley is on remand waiting to be tried for poisoning her husband John Bentley.  Roger Sheringham, on no very definite evidence, believes her to be innocent even though he hasn’t met any of the people involved in the case.  He travels to Wychford with a friend who has a cousin living in the town to do some investigation himself in an attempt to clear Mrs Bentley’s name.

It soon becomes clear that there are several people who just might have committed the crime and all of whom have motives for wanting Bentley dead.  This is a well written and interesting crime story which will leave most readers guessing.  I thought I’d worked out who did it but I was completely wrong.  The solution is not at all what I expected.

This book is somewhat notorious for a couple of scenes in which a teenage girl is spanked by one of the characters.  If it is taken in context it reads just like horseplay between two people who have known each other since childhood. The girl’s parents clearly weren’t bothered.  It is all too easy to read a sexual motive into it with twenty first century eyes but it didn’t read like that to me.  It’s good to see this book back in print.

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The Poisoned Chocolates Case (British Library Crime Classics)

This is one of the classic detective stories of the Golden Age of British crime fiction.  A box of chocolates causes the death of Mrs Joan Bendix and puts her husband in hospital for a short time.  No one is ever charged with the crime.  The Crimes Circle – a group headed by detective story writer Roger Sheringham – decides to see if they can offer a possible solution.  The book consists of the possible solutions and how the available evidence supports them.

Christianna Brand wrote another possible solution and Martin Edwards has added his own for this new edition of the book.  If you want to read a conventional crime story with a crime, the investigation and the arrest of the criminal then this book isn’t for you.  As the members of the Crimes Circle prove, there are as many solutions as there are people to investigate the case.

I favour the Roger Sheringham solution though there is plenty of evidence against it, but I can follow all the other solutions and they all have equal merit and the Sheringham solution only wins by a whisker. The challenge for the reader is to try and find their own solution or to decide which of the possibilities they support.  A thoroughly entertaining read.

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Ask a Policeman

Lord Comstock is murdered in his country house.  There are plenty of suspects – Mills, his secretary; an Archbishop who had a loud altercation with him minutes before he died; the Parliamentary Chief Whip who had called to see him; and a commissioner of police who had also called to see him.  That’s not to mention the servants and any stranger who happened to be passing the gates of his house from which his open study window was visible.

John Rhode describes the initial crime and Helen Simpson, Gladys Mitchell, Dorothy L Sayers and Anthony Berkeley each propose a solution using each other’s detective characters. Milward Kennedy wraps it all up with yet another solution. In each version new facts are revealed as well as new red herrings.

In other hands this could have been an unfortunate mish-mash but these writers were masters of their craft and the result is entertaining and intriguing and has stood the test of time extremely well in my opinion.  It is good to see these entertaining books in print again and they are perfect reading for anyone who loves the Golden Age of Crime as well as being a good introduction for anyone who hasn’t read any books by these authors before.

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The Golden Age of Murder

As a long time fan of many of the writers of so-called Golden Age crime fiction I was keen to read this history of the Detection Club and its authors.  This is a comprehensive history of how the Detection Club came to be formed by Dorothy L Sayers, Anthony Berkeley and Agatha Christie.  It also examines their lives and work and discusses some interesting insights into their well concealed private lives.

The book sets the origins of the club firmly in the period between the two World Wars and examines the cultural and historical background of the times.  Many critics of Golden Age crime fiction, both contemporary and modern, refer to the way the books do not dwell on misery or violence.  But this book makes clear that the reading public wanted escapism having had a surfeit of violence during World War I.  The Golden Age authors knew what their public wanted and strove to provide it.

The authors were also writing under the constraints of the times in which they lived where explicit sex in novels was just not allowed and graphic violence was almost equally taboo.  In fact the seeds of modern psychological crime novels were sown at this time and later authors have used similar plots in modern novels of suspense.

I found it interesting to read how authors were influenced by the real crimes both of their era and earlier periods and how they were often incredibly knowledgeable about true crime as well. I had heard of many of the authors discussed in the text and will be reading more of their work in the near future.

I thought it was interesting that many of the authors mentioned in this book seem to have had problems with income tax at one time or another.  Having recently read two biographies of Georgette Heyer, who encountered similar problems, this seems to be a common theme with authors of the period.

If you want to know more about the Golden Age authors, or even if you just enjoy reading their books you will find this book of absorbing interest.  Be warned, it could seriously damage your bank balance as you will come across many authors whose books you just must read!  There is a bibliography and an index included in the book as well and an appendix showing the rules and constitution of the Detection Club.

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Capital Crimes: London Mysteries (British Library Crime Classics)

It is interesting reading stories from some of the less well known names from the Golden Age of British crime fiction in this fascinating collection of short stories compiled and edited by Martin Edwards who also writes an introduction to the book and brief details of the author at the beginning of each story.  Margery Allingham and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle are well known in the field but you may not have realised for example that E M Delafield (‘Diary of a Provincial Lady’) also wrote crime fiction.

I found all the stories interesting and entertaining and they show how styles in crime fiction writing have changed over the years.  Subject matter however remains constant.  I was particularly chilled by H C Bailey’s story ‘The Little House’ which is very twenty first century in it’s subject matter of child abuse.  I found it poignant and it brought tears to my eyes.  Other stories which stuck in my mind after finishing the book was Hugh Walpole’s ‘The Silver Mask’ which is a masterpiece of psychological suspense and Anthony Berkeley’s ‘The Avenging Chance’ which has a nice twist to it.

What struck me about all the stories was how their authors managed to convey the horrors of the crimes they depict without resorting to graphic descriptions of blood stained corpses. Some authors writing today could usefully study this collection to see how it is done. If you like your crime without graphic violence then this may be a book you will enjoy.

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