#MurderousMondays: Love Lies Bleeding by Edmund Crispin #Mystery #Review #GoldenAge

#MurderousMondays is a feature started by Mackey at Macsbooks, to share her latest murder read. A historical mystery, a contemporary, paranormal, or cosy–there are so many kinds of murder mysteries, and if you’re reading any, you can share your reviews/thoughts in this feature as well!

The fifth of the Gervase Fen books by Crispin, this was the second of these that I’ve read. The book opens in Castrevenford school where preparations are on for speech day (and prize day etc), but lots it seems is going wrong. One of the girl students from the sister school, participating in the school play for the occasion is visibly upset, but no one knows why, and then she goes missing leaving an uncharacteristic note about running away; there has been a theft in the chemistry lab; and now the night before the big day, not one but two of the teachers are found dead—shot—within a short time of each other. Luckily for the Headmaster, Dr Stanford, due to a last minute change in programme, he had invited his friend, Oxford Don Gervase Fen to deliver the speech. With his considerable experience on previous cases, and the fact that the local Superintendent, Stagge, is out of his depth and would welcome any assistance, Fen is involved in the matter right from the start.

This was an enjoyable read for me, a good combination of a fairly complicated mystery (in a sense) and humour—and I certainly enjoyed the writing a lot as well. The mystery as I said had plenty of elements, a kidnapping, theft, and murders (a third murder, apparently unconnected also occurs, and a second theft, from the armoury is also discovered), all of which are connected of course, and it is up to Fen to work out how. There are a number of people who could have done it, but in this one I felt, none really stood out throughout the book as having a strong enough motive (I mean as in a usual whodunit, one can narrow it down to a specific set of suspects—that didn’t happen for me here), it could have been any one of the characters around, though there was a clue about the person who turned out to have done it. But there were an assortment of them—masters, and some staff, including one who is the in-house gossip in a sense (Mr Etheredge), keeping his eye on all that goes on. There was also quite a bit of action in the plot too with a search for the missing girl, and more in a full-fledged car-chase at the end, reminiscent of movies.

The atmosphere of the school too I thought came through pretty well—activities (from exams and reports to various clubs and games), student love affairs, to teachers who get along and not with each other and the students (their approaches to their work, and the students etc)—one felt that one was amidst all the hustle and bustle and all the goings on. In the plot, one along with Fen keeps going between the activities of speech day (morning service, the speech, cricket, a garden party, and much more) and the investigations, with things having to be hushed up as much as possible since speech day must go on as usual.

There was also a fair bit of humour as mentioned, in for instance Fen writing his own detective story, which he keeps trying to tell Dr Stanford about, and the animals in the book. There is Mr Merrythought, a bloodhound with a tendency to ‘homicidal fits’ who seems to take a liking to Fen (Harold Bloom has described him as ‘a masterpiece of canine creation’), and who turns out to have a fairly strong role throughout the book. Fen and Mr Plumstead, another character who appears as the story moves on, also have an encounter with a ‘gross and evil smelling’ duck who has a ‘truculent gaze’, present at the site of the third murder. Both fun even if the duck had just a ‘guest appearance’. Other touches are there too including Crispin poking a bit of fun at his readers, also perhaps himself himself—with Fen observing when told that he was recognised from his picture in the papers, that this was ‘more than Crispin’s readers manage to do’).

All in all, a great deal of fun.

Find other bloggers’ reviews here: the Puzzle Doctor finds it an ‘entertaining read’ (here) another review here ‘unreservedly recommend[s]’ the book.

#MurderousMondays: The Vanishing Stair by Maureen Johnson

#MurderousMondays is a feature started by Mackey at Macsbooks, to share her latest murder read. A historical mystery, a contemporary, paranormal, or cosy–there are so many kinds of murder mysteries, and if you’re reading any, you can share them in this feature too!

The Vanishing Stair is book 2 in the Truly Devious Trilogy (my review of book 1 Truly Devious, is here). The story is set in Ellingham Academy, a residential school in Vermont which takes only gifted students, each of whom have a specific interest, and encourages them to hone those skills through curricula designed accordingly. In the 1930s, when Ellingham was first established, the founder Albert Ellingham’s wife and three-year-old child were kidnapped never to be found again. His wife’s body was recovered a few days later, but nothing was ever heard of his daughter Alice. Another student at the academy, Dottie Epstein had also disappeared at the same time. Before the events, Ellingham had received threats including from someone mysterious who called themselves Truly Devious—a riddle in a letter with letters cut out from newspapers. A man was arrested for the crime, but many believed that he wasn’t actually responsible. These include in the present day, Stevie Bell, a young student with a special interest in true crime, and particularly the Ellingham case.  In the first book, she gets into the Academy, and is on the way to realise her dream of actually solving the case. But her investigations she finds are not confined to the events of the past for it seems Truly Devious might strike again, and in fact does, when a student she was working with on a reconstruction of the crime, is killed.

In this one, the story picks up from where we left off in previous book. After Stevie had picked up on a clue to the present-day murder and pointed it out, leading another student to run, her parents pulled her out of Ellingham for her safety. But now another, unexpected chance appears for her to return, but one that has a condition that isn’t the most welcome one. Still being her only chance to go back, Stevie accepts. Back at Ellingham, she soon fits back into what has become her home, with her friends and begins work once again on the two cases, mostly the Ellingham case. Ellie, the girl who had vanished has not been seen or heard from since the time, and Stevie doesn’t seem to know where she might have gotten to, while others seem to give rather unconvincing suggestions. But Stevie has clues to more than one aspect of the old case, and she is keen to continue piecing it together. Meanwhile she also gets a chance to assist a professor with her research on the Ellingham case. The professor, Fenton, has written one book on the case already, and is planning another and claims that if some details check out she will be able to solve the puzzle. It is here that Stevie is supposed to help. But another new character, Fenton’s nephew Hunter suggests she might have other motives too. Meanwhile Stevie must also keep up her end of the bargain for returning to Ellingham which is causing her a dilemma between her own feelings and ‘a deal with the devil’ so to speak. Also, as in the previous book, the story goes back and forth between present-day events and those in the past, and these give us answers which even Stevie doesn’t know so far.

I read this instalment almost eight months after reading the first one, so while I remembered the broad storyline and some of the characters, many of the details had disappeared as well as some of the characters; so when I started this one, it took me a while to get my head around everything and get back into the story. But once I was back into it, I once again found it to be an exciting and gripping read. While as I mentioned in my review of the first book, the whole mystery will be resolved only in the final book, there are plenty of important revelations in this one too, and it seems Stevie has pretty nearly solved the old case, well at least a major part of it. But events in the present day begin to get much more complicated, and the killer strikes yet again, with leaving us with more unsolved crimes, and only part of the answer to the old one. I thought it ended with a good mix of answers and new and old questions, and left me excited to see how everything finally turns out. Also it certainly does give you a creepy feeling when reading it! Great read once again.

#Murderous Mondays: Murder at Maypole Manor by L.B. Hathaway and The Incident at Fives Castle by Clara Benson #Mystery #Review #HistoricalMystery

#MurderousMondays is a feature started by Mackey at Macsbooks, to share her latest murder read. A historical mystery, a contemporary, paranormal, or cosy–there are so many kinds of murder mysteries, and if you’re reading any, you can share them in this feature too!

Chimneys, a stately home, the seat of the Marquis of Caterham appears in two Agatha Christie thriller-mysteries (The Secret of Chimneys, and The Seven Dials Mystery) , which are light-hearted and fun. While Caterham himself is a bit like Wodehouse’s Lord Emsworth, it seems the house, before his time (when his brother was the Marquis, and also the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs), was the site of many political dealings all in the guise of informal house parties, which the current Caterham is reluctant to continue with but often is badgered into doing. The mysteries themselves are mysteries ‘proper’ but there are thriller elements in both these, especially the second book which can tend to be slightly ‘silly’ for want of better word. Anyway, the reason I’m bringing up Chimneys is that both the books I’m talking about in this #MurderousMondays post are set in somewhat similar country houses, and with a broadly similar plot. In fact both these have very similar plots through the details differ enough to make them different reads.

Murder at Maypole Manor is the third in the Posie Parker series of books by author L.B. Hathaway (I’ve talked about this one in a Shelf Control post earlier-here) which I read around the end of December, while The Incident at Five’s Castle is the fifth in the Angela Marchmont series of books by Clara Benson (I in fact reviewed book 4 in a previous #MurderousMondays post here), and was the first book I finished this year (er, decade?). Both books are set in 1920s England, and at Maypole Manor, and Fives Castle (in Scotland) respectively where the New Year’s Party is providing cover for important political dealings.

In Maypole Manor, the New Year Party is being thrown by a famous (now retired) adventurer, Lord Robin Glayslayer, but the party is entirely a front for the handover of some secret documents, as while Lord Glayslayer himself has no political linkages, he has agreed to help the government by replacing all but a handful of his guests by various undercover government agents. In this list are Inspector Lovelace of Scotland Yard, who brings with him undercover, Posie Parker (and her dog). Of course, there is a snow storm and the house is cut off entirely, and not only does the handover not go as smoothly as planned, a murderer or murderers too strike as two deaths occur in quick succession. Posie investigates. Meanwhile there are other subplots like Lord Glayslayer’s will, a smuggling racket, and also a continuing plot (from previous books) of Posie being pursued by an arch villain who wishes to marry her.

In the Incident at Fives Castle, the setting is somewhat similar. This one picks up somewhat from the previous book where we met the young (also somewhat Wodehousian) reporter Freddy Pilkington-Soames, and one of his set Gertie, the daughter of the Earl of Strathmerrick. Gertie has taken a liking to Angela and invites her to the Hogmanay celebrations at Fives, where once again, many of the guests are political and diplomatic bigwigs. Of course, these aren’t replacements for any ‘original’ guests, but once again, the party is to serve as cover for the handover of important documents, this time to do with atomic science. As expected, there is a snow storm, and the house is cut off, while the scientist who was expected to arrive for the party has gone missing. Soon enough, he turns up, but naturally, dead. Angela and Freddy are the only guests not on the original list, and so naturally become the primary suspects, and so must solve it all.

The subplots in both books are of course very different as are the characters and the general tone. Both have a touch of humour certainly. But while the mystery element in Maypole Manor (this is the first book in the series that I am reading) is a ‘proper’ one, it does have that feel of a parody, something on the lines of Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody mysteries (again, I’ve read only one of those), complete with an ‘archvillain’ and such, though unlike in Amelia Peabody, he isn’t actually called that. And as I mentioned, there is a subplot with hidden passages, smugglers, secret messages, and impostors galore. There was a little twist involving the dog which was cute. Still it was a fun read and apt for the time of the year since I read it around New Year’s eve.

Five’s Castle on the other hand, doesn’t have those exaggerated elements but there is some element of humour with among other things, characters like Freddy Pilkington-Soames, who as I’d mentioned in my review of Gypsy’s Mile is a version of Freddie Threepwood, though with brains; Gertie too is inspired by Wodehousian characters (though I guess those aspects stood out somewhat more in the previous book). The mystery is a proper one, but the solution was very like The Secret at Chimneys to my mind. The side plots had of course elements of politics of the time, suspicious political societies, but also a spot of blackmail (in which I got Sherlock Holmes vibes). But I overall enjoyed this one too as I have the rest of the books in this series. Even when the mysteries can be guessed–in some of the books I’ve read so far in this series–I still find them pleasant, engaging and fast-paced reads. Angela’s past, her service during the war, etc., are brought up in this one too, with a few more details, but that mystery continues to remain one, which perhaps may be revealed bit by bit.

Have you read either of these books? How did you like them? Or any others in similar settings or with a similar plotlines? Which ones and how did you find them? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!

#Murderous Mondays: Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson #BookReview #Mystery

It’s been a while since I did a #MurderousMondays post, but that’s as it’s been a while since I read a murder mystery, surprisingly for me. #MurderousMondays is a feature started by Mackey at Macsbooks, to share her latest murder read. A historical mystery, a contemporary, paranormal, or cosy–there are so many kinds of murder mysteries, and if you’re reading any, you can share them with this feature too!

This is a more contemporary murder mystery compared to ones I usually read, but with a dual time line, one current and one in the 1930s, it was something that I was very interested in picking up. Truly Devious is the first in a trilogy of the same name. In the 1930s, a tycoon named Albert Ellingham sets up the Ellingham Academy in Vermont for gifted students who are free to study subjects/fields that interest them. One day, Ellingham’s wife and three-year-old daughter are kidnapped and never recovered. Alongside, a particularly gifted student has also gone missing. Days before this event, a mysterious riddle/poem arrived, threatening murder, signed by someone called Truly Devious. Eighty years later, in the present day, a young girl called Stephanie ‘Stevie’ Bell arrives at Ellingham, her particular interest—true crime. And part of her aim in coming there is to solve the Ellingham case, which she feels was never really solved. As she gets settled in to life at Ellingham, meeting other students each with their peculiar interests, she also starts to look into the Ellingham case, in which pursuit the faculty and staff are ready to help and encourage. But as she is doing this, there seem to be indications that Truly Devious might strike again—only Stevie isn’t sure whether what she saw real or something she imagined. But the threats become real very soon when death does strike again. But could really it be Truly Devious back from the past?

Wow, I enjoyed this so much for a book which I knew would not have the solution to the mystery—either mystery in fact—that will only happen in book 3. But despite this, the book was so well paced and gripping, it kept me reading throughout. Each of the characters, students or teachers is well drawn out, they each have their quirks and individual personalities all of which stand out in some way or other, and because of which one doesn’t ever end up confusing them even though there are quite a few. This isn’t a book where there are ‘hold-your-breath’ moments throughout as there can be in some stories, yet it holds one’s interest all the time. The story goes back and forth between the events of the 1930s when the Ellingham kidnapping took place, and the investigation that was conducted there (interview transcripts and such) and the present as Stevie is looking into that case, and also of the murderer who strikes in the present.

The book also explores this concept (which I have come across before in the context of learning and problem solving) of that period/mental state between sleep and wakefulness/ between consciousness and unconsciousness when the best/unusual ideas strike one. For Stevie too, certain connections turn up in this state and yet one is never entirely sure whether they are ‘real’ or what her mind has processed when at that point. This part was really interesting for me.   

As far as the mystery itself is concerned, being the first book, it does of course give one the background of what happened but also, Stevie manages to pick up some clues towards the solution of both mysteries, interesting little and not-so-little points which you can see are significant and why so but not perhaps where they will lead or how these will shape up the whole picture. But still one has enough to want to continue on, to see what she will pick up on next, even though the mysteries won’t be solved in that one either. One ‘revelation’ at the end of this one had me thinking of a totally different book, The Blue Castle by LM Montgomery, because it is very like one secret in that book. And speaking of books, this one talks about mystery stories, especially Agatha Christie, also Holmes, as well as poetry so those who enjoy literary references would love that aspect too.

This was an exciting read for me and I really can’t wait to get to the next one. It becomes available in my part of the world around the end of this month, and then it is a wait till next January for the final instalment. But I think it will be worth it!

#MurderousMondays: Murder in Piccadilly by Charles Kingston

It’s Monday again, so time for #MurderousMondays. #MurderousMondays is a feature started by Mackey at Macsbooks, to share her latest murder read. A historical mystery, a contemporary, paranormal, or cosy–there are so many murder mysteries, and of you’re reading any, you can share them too!

As I wrote last week (here), since my reading theme this month is 1930s books, the mysteries I am reading this month are also those written or set in the 1930s. The book I read this week is a British Library Crime Classic, Murder in Piccadilly by Charles Kingston. Charles Kingston O’Mahoney, who wrote under the pen name Charles Kingston, began writing crime fiction in 1921 and went on to publish twenty-five mysteries until his death in 1944 (the last was posthumously published). Murder in Piccadilly was published in 1936.

Robert ‘Bobbie’ Cheldon is twenty-three, jobless and incapable of doing work, spoiled rotten by his mother Ruby Cheldon, and brought up in the expectation of inheriting his uncle, Massy Cheldon’s substantial estate (with an income of ten thousand a year). But Massy has a good few years, may be decades, before him yet. Bobbie however has fallen in love with a very pretty but not too talented dancer Nancy Curzon, who dances at a nightclub called the Frozen Fang. And the only way she will accept his suit is if he has a fortune—now! The only solution his mother and uncle have for the present is for him to get a job which they ensure he gets, but he must start at the bottom of the ladder. And Bobbie doesn’t want to work. However, he is also too much of a namby pamby to think murder, well may be not think it, but carry it out at any rate. But the murder does happen, and Bobbie, wittingly or unwittingly becomes involved, for there are unsavoury elements, friends of Nancy, among them ex-pugilist Nosey Ruslin, happy to nudge him in that direction, since it would be sure to give them a golden-egg-laying goose. And Bobbie is too young and foolish to see what’s coming. When the murder takes place, Chief Inspector Wake of Scotland Yard is given charge of the case, and while he is quick to work out who may be involved, he must find the requisite connections and proof, and the extent that each person he suspects is indeed involved, and this starts a sort of battle of wits with Nosey Ruslin. How will the Inspector put the clues together, and does he manage to do it as quickly as he thinks he can?

This certainly wasn’t a conventional murder mystery since we knew who the victim was and who plotted the murder, but it was still surprisingly interesting reading throughout. In the initial parts, as I said, while it is clear who the intended victim is, and who could be the possible killer, one can’t be very sure whether the murder will actually take place and how, though when it does, we have sufficient warning. And then, while we know who has been plotting the murder, we don’t know immediately who actually did the deed, so this remains a bit of a mystery. Once Chief Inspector Wake comes into the picture, the story for me got even more interesting as one begins to see how he acts on both intuition and evidence, preferring human clues who can reveal things to the more traditional understanding of clues, though even these turn out to help him in more than one way. Watching Nosey and the Inspector pit their wits against each other, even when we ‘know’ Wake will come out victorious turned out to be good fun. And the end, well, that has its own little surprises in store as the characters get their just desserts in a way one didn’t see coming (though there was a hint along the way). Even in terms of the investigation, things turn out quite differently than what I expected, and I was left wondering whether any of the characters really ‘won’. [Incidentally, the characters (a dancer in a nightclub, an ex pugilist, and a penniless young gentleman among them) almost sound as if they’d stepped out of a Wodehouse novel, but here they are more real and far less attractive.] So, this book turned out to be mystery that wasn’t a mystery, and yet had plenty to surprise me when I read it. Entertaining and fun!