Review: 4:50 From Paddington by Agatha Christie #Mystery #Review #BritishCrimeClassics

4:50 From Paddington, also published as What Mrs McGillicuddy Saw is the seventh of the Miss Marple books and I re-read this last week, having last read it in 2017 as part of a Miss Marple challenge. In this one, Elspeth McGillicuddy is travelling on a train from London (the 4:50 of the title), having done her Christmas shopping. Looking into a train passing by, she witnesses a man throttling a woman; but when she reports this, the railway authorities are inclined to dismiss it as a figment of her imagination, not helped by the fact that the ticket collector spots a magazine open near her with a story featuring the image of a girl being strangled. But Mrs McGillicuddy is on her way to visit a friend and that friend is none other than Jane Marple. So when she narrates her story to Miss Marple, the latter who knows her and that she is not inclined to be carried away by imagination of any sort, decides to look into the matter, even though having reported it to the police no body has been found, either on the train or any where else. But Miss Marple is convinced that something did happen, and being unable to undertake any physical activity herself, hires Lucy Eyelesbarrow, a graduate in mathematics who has taken up domestic service as a career—she only works for short periods, efficiently, and is paid highly for her services. Lucy takes on a position at Rutherford Hall, residence of Old Mr Crakenthorpe and his daughter Emma (the other children live away) in Brackhampton where Miss Marple has worked out the body could be, and of course, Lucy pokes around and finds it. While initially it seems to have nothing to do with the family in the hall, connections seem to pop up, and then further deaths. Meanwhile Mr Crakenthorpe’s young grandson and his pal have a fun time undertaking investigations of their own while the official investigation is handed over to Inspector Dermott Craddock, godson of Miss Marple’s old friend Sir Henry Clithering, and one who has seen a demonstration of her skills before.

This is one of my favourite Miss Marple mysteries (in fact it was in my list of Marple favourites that I made on my previous read: here), and has plenty of twists and turns while also being light-hearted and cosy. Miss Marple as always uses her particular strengths to solve the mystery—people, and her knowledge of human nature. Not only Lucy and Craddock but also her great-nephew David West (for his knowledge of trains; incidentally I only noticed on this read that this was a different nephew from the usual Raymond West, the author, though obviously related to him), Leonard the son of Griselda (the vicar’s wife who appeared in the first book) for his knowledge of maps, and her former maid Florence who runs a bed and breakfast in Brackhampton, to be near the scene.  

Lucy and Craddock do the legwork, and Miss Marple who poses as Lucy’s aunt staying in the neighbourhood, manages to visit the house and do what she does best, understand each of the residents’ natures by drawing parallels with those she knows, like Mr Eade the bank manager, a little too fond of money or Jenkins at the garage who made money off small dishonest dealings. Alongside, there is also a touch of romance with Lucy having more than one suitors—that mystery, who she picks we are left to figure out ourselves. And yes, also plenty of food and cooking throughout. An enjoyable revisit, even though I remembered most of it.

Have you read this one? How did you like it? Among your favourite Miss Marples, or no? Looking forward to your thoughts!

Image source: Goodreads

#Review: Detection Unlimited #BritishCrimeClassicsChallenge #GoldenAge #Mystery

One of the reading challenges I’m doing this year is #BritishCrimeClassicsChallenge hosted by Rekha at the Book Decoder (here) where one reads crime,mystery, or thriller books (British of course) published before 1965. Detection Unlimited (1953) is the third book I’m reading this year that falls in this category.

This is the third of the series featuring Chief Inspector Hemingway that I’ve read, though it is the fourth in the series/subseries. Once again in a classic setting—a small English village—this one opens one summer evening as many of the residents are heading to a tennis party thrown by Mrs Haswell. On the way to and at the party we learn of a solicitor Mr Sampson Warrenby, who has recently moved to the village, and is not well liked, in fact disliked by pretty much all the residents. The party guests are rather pleased that Warrenby chose not to attend, though his niece, Mavis, who is keeping house for him is there. Of course, by the time the games come to an end and the guests return, Mavis comes home to find her uncle shot dead in the garden of his home, Fox House. The local Detective-Inspector Thropton is away sick (similar to the case in Envious Casca), and so the Chief Constable decides to call in Scotland Yard, and Chief Inspector Hemingway is sent down, accompanied by Inspector Horace Harbottle.

While in some ways, the case before Hemingway is a simple one, a man shot dead in his garden, it turns out to be quite difficult to figure out as for one, there are so many suspects, all with different reasons to dislike Warrenby—from Mr Drybeck the solicitor whose practice and seats on various boards and committees have been taken away by Warrenby, to his niece, the saintly Mavis who seems to have fallen in love with a young Polish man, Ladislas Zamagorisky, who her uncle most certainly does not approve of, to Mrs Midgeholme, breeder of Pekes whose dog was kicked by Warrenby; many have reasons to dislike him, even kill him. In fact, Hemingway says at one point, ‘I don’t know when I’ve had so many possibles to choose from’ , identifying at least nine. To add to it, there are 37 rifles of the kind used in the murder in the vicinity. And if these alone weren’t enough, nearly everyone in the village from the said Mr Drybeck and Mrs Midgeholme, to youngsters Charles Haswell and Abigail Patterson, to a ninety-year-old former poacher Mr Biggleswade, has turned into an amateur detective approaching Hemingway with their theories and information they consider of the utmost importance, some to throw suspicion off themselves, but others genuinely ‘trying to help’.

I enjoyed this one, especially since like Hemingway, I certainly didn’t figure out whodunit until he did himself (in the previous Hemingway book I read, Envious Casca I did figure the ‘who’ out); so the book kept me reading till the end. The abundance of suspects and amateur detectives kept me guessing as well. Like the other two Hemingway books that I’ve read, this one too is humorous, in Hemingway’s tone and his exchanges with Inspector Harbottle for instance, as well as in some of the characters such as Mrs Midgeholme and her line of prize-winning Pekes Ultima, all named with the letter ‘U’ (Ulysees, Umberto, and Ursula, but also Uppish, Unruly, and Umbrella) and even the old poacher, for that matter. Hemingway’s observations in an instance or two do seem a touch insensitive or un-PC but overall he’s good fun. The rest of the characters too are pretty well drawn out, each standing out individually, and of course, more than one with their own secrets. I liked how Hemingway finally worked the thing out, picking up on various things that he’d missed when first told them—the explanation of who, how, and why runs into several pages where the Inspector is more or less putting together various pieces as he works it out. I find I’m really liking Heyer’s mysteries, ones more serious in tone like Penhallow as well as these lighter-hearted Hemingway ones a lot, and look forward to reading more soon.

Have you read this one or any of Heyer’s other mysteries? Which one/s and how did you like it/them? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!

Image source: Cover image from goodreads as always.

Indian Fictional Detectives-III: English Fiction

In the first two parts of this post (here and here), I wrote about Indian fictional detectives from books in different languages (Bengali and Tamil only, as these are what I’ve been able to find so far). I do plan on adding to that list in further posts, but in this one, I’m taking a little detour and writing about a few Indian fictional detectives who appear in English fiction. The detectives in this list are different from the previous two in this regard, as well as since these books are more recently written, and also not all are by Indian authors. So, here goes!

Inspector Ghote

Inspector Ghote is an inspector in the Bombay police who appeared in twenty-six novels by English author H.R.F. Keating. The first was The Perfect Murder which appeared in 1964, in which he investigated the ‘murder’ of Mr Perfect, a parsi , and secretary to a rich businessman Lala Varde. Ghote is married to Protima, a beautiful, spirited Bengali lady and they have a son, Ved. In the books, he solves cases as well as deals with the frustrating bureaucracy. These books have mixed reviews on Goodreads, including some (of book 1) that find most characters caricatures, and not particularly Indian. I haven’t read any of the books but I did see a film adaptation of the first The Perfect Murder which was slow moving, but good fun over all.

Vish Puri

Vish Puri, a portly Punjabi private detective, appears in a series of novels also by an English/American author, Tarquin Hall. The series has five books so far, plus a Delhi Detectives Handbook written in Vish Puri’s voice. The first book, The Case of the Missing Servant (2009) sees the ‘Most Private Detective’ look into two cases, one to look into the background of a man who is willing to marry a woman her father considers ‘unmarriageable’; and two, the disappearance of Mary, the servant of a prominent lawyer. The books also take us into Delhi Punjabi society, and are humorous and entertaining. I’ve read the second one in the series, The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing, where a scientist is killed when he goes to his laughter club. I found this to be a fun read, though perhaps a touch exaggerated, but largely pretty authentic. Puri’s Mummy also does some investigating of her own and is great fun.

Perveen Mistry

Perveen Mistry is the first female lawyer in Bombay (based on real-life firsts, Cornelia Sorabji and Mithan Tata Lam), who has read law at Oxford and joins her father’s practice. In her first case A Murder at Malabar Hill/The Widows of Malabar Hill, she is the only one able to handle the matter of the will of one of her father’s wealthy clients Omar Farid who has died leaving behind three widows, all in purdah. When a murder takes place, she is drawn deeper into the matter putting her own life in danger.The story goes back and forth between Perveen’s own life upto that point, and the case she is investigating. There is so far one other book in the series by author Sujata Massey, The Satapur Moonstone, which takes us into one of India’s princely states where Perveen goes to help with a dispute between the royal ladies, the Dowager queen and her daughter-in-law over the crown prince’s education. The first book (which I’ve read) takes us into the atmosphere of 1920s Bombay besides the life of women in purdah at that time. (My review is here), and I’m very much looking forward to reading the second.

Inspector Chopra

Inspector Chopra appears in a series, the Baby Ganesh Agency Investigation series, by author Vaseem Khan. The series so far as five books and two novellas. In the first, The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, the inspector Ashwin Chopra, finds himself ‘inherit’ two cases, on the very day he retires, one a drowned boy whose death no one wants solved, and the second, a baby elephant which he receives as a retirement gift from his uncle, and who must adjust to life in an apartment block. Thus starts the charming and humorous series of adventures, on which the baby elephant Ganesh accompanies the inspector. This is a series I haven’t read so far but it sounds rather delightful, especially since I love elephants (and mysteries, of course!)

Wyndham and Banerjee

I wasn’t sure whether to include these as they don’t all qualify, but all the same with the setting in Colonial India and one Indian detective, I decided to include them after all. Captain Sam Wyndham, former Scotland Yard detective who arrives in Calcutta where he is joined by subordinates, Inspector Digby and Sargent Banerjee are the ‘detectives’ in a series by author Abir Mukerjee, which has four books so far. The first story A Rising Man is set in 1919, and each book seems to be set the following year, the latest one, Death in the East being set in 1922. The series has been praised for its descriptions and historical backdrop, including the political turmoil in the country around that time. This is a series I haven’t read yet, but am going to pick up sometime soon.

Have you read any of the series or books from my list? Which one/s and how did you like them? Any others with Indian fictional detectives that are not in my list that you’ve read or come across? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!

Shelf Control #79: The Black Cabinet by Patricia Wentworth #GoldenAge #TBR

Wednesday, the 26th of February–time for Shelf Control once again–the last one this month! Shelf Control is a feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. It appears every Wednesday. To participate, simply pick a book from your TBR pile, and write a post about it–what its about, what makes you want to read it, where you got it, and such. Link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to check out your picks!

After a children’s book which isn’t really one last week (here), this week I’m back to a Golden Age mystery, and one by an author I read recently and enjoyed very much, Patricia Wentworth. The Black Cabinet, published in 1925, is also not from the Miss Silver set of books, but a standalone, and I got this around the same time I got The Dower House Mystery (which I recently reviewed-here) on kindle.

In The Black Cabinet, poor but beautiful Chloe is assistant to a dressmaker, yearning for a better life; with memories of her time at her family’s country estate Danesborough, where played as a child. Suddenly, decades later, she finds herself heiress to the estate, and to a mysterious cousin who has made his fortune by blackmail. And what he has left her includes the indiscreet letters by which he got his wealth, all kept in a black cabinet. Her cousin whispers the combination to her just before he dies, but in leaving this to her he also puts her in grave danger at the hands of his accomplices who won’t even stop at murder to keep their secrets.

This sounds like another fun adventure/mystery from Wentworth, perhaps along the lines of the Dower House Mystery. While as I had said in my review of that book, the plot–the haunted house and such–weren’t out of the ordinary, the way it was written made it a really exciting read. I enjoyed the writing a lot and it drew me in within the first few pages, which I am expecting with this one as well. So certainly looking forward to reading to this one.

Patricia Wentworth, or Dora Amy Elles, was born in India (in Mussoorie (where I have lived before) according to Wikipedia, but Gwalior according to the note that was in the Dower House Mystery). Publishing her first novel in 1910, she went on to write several others, 32 in the series featuring Miss Maud Silver, retired-governess-turned-private-detective and 34 others. Her first book, A Marriage under the Terror (set in the French Revolution, and not a mystery), won the Melrose Prize.

Have you read The Black Cabinet or any other books by Wentworth? Which ones and how did you find them? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!

Info on the book is from Goodreads (here), and Google Books (here), and on Wentworth from Wikipedia (here) and the Google books (same as before).

#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.

Review: The Dower House Mystery by Patricia Wentworth #Mystery #GoldenAge #BookReview

Amabel Grey is a widow living in a small country village on a limited income. Her daughter, nineteen-year-old Daphne, brought up by Amabel’s much wealthier sister, Agatha, is spoiled to say the least and desperately wants to go on a trip to Egypt with some friends (mostly so that a rich young man she knows will propose to her). This requires Amabel to spend £200, money she does not have. Still, since Daphne is throwing tantrums (no better way to describe it) and shedding what seem to be crocodile tears, Amabel heads off to her lawyer Mr Berry to see if anything can be done. (She can’t borrow the money since she has no means to pay it back.) There she overhears George Forsham, a man she used to know years ago, asking Mr Berry to find him a tenant for the Dower House in his family home, in which he is unable to keep a tenant since it is supposed to be haunted. Of course he is going to pay £200 (just the sum she needs) to anyone who will live there for six months (with a number of odd conditions). Despite being dissuaded by Mr Berry, Amabel who has stayed at Forsham as a young girl, takes up the offer and heads there. At Forsham she also runs into George’s brother Julian who she was in love with at one time. And there is certainly something wrong with the house with plenty of odd (and rather unsettling) happenings. Julian is keen to investigate, and Amabel to hold her ground and keep up her end of the bargain. This, though not a murder mystery, was such a fun read, I enjoyed every bit of it.

A few days ago after finishing my last book, I wasn’t sure what to pick up next, didn’t ‘feel’ like reading any of the physical books I had with me; so glanced through what I had on Kindle, and this one caught my eye. I opened it up and began reading and within minutes, it had me hooked, and in fact excited to get back to it each time I had to put it down. The book had the typical atmosphere of a creepy haunted house (the kind we see in films sometimes)—all the quintessential elements like thuds on the front door at night, doors mysteriously closing (no matter how many times they are opened and left open), mewing cats, sinister laughter, and even the feeling of being followed when out on the stairs at night. Amabel’s own dog runs away the very first day, and is found back at her old home. Another dog which Julian borrows for security does the same (heading to his own home). Amabel’s own maid is too scared to stay on. One knows of course, that it won’t be a real ghost but still I thought Wentworth did the entire atmosphere really well, even if it was typical. There are other aspects too—like a medium (clearly putting on an act—we are pretty much told that at once), and the story of a girl (one of George and Julian’s former nurse’s twin daughters) who had run away years ago, and who might well be among the newer residents in the village—connected with the main plot but one doesn’t know exactly how. The solution itself was perhaps a little on the lines of a children’s mystery (Enid Blyton or one of the older Nancy Drews) but still good fun. (This was something I felt in the Miss Silver book I’d read earlier as well.)

The characters were for the most part fairly likeable: Amabel showed spirit in wanting to stick it out rather than running away though she didn’t seem to want to get to the bottom of things. I liked that she didn’t behave like the typical damsel in distress waiting to be rescued (both in terms of wanting to earn the money herself, and staying her ground), but I felt she was rather foolish in heading downstairs and opening the door almost every night when she knew from previous experience what would happen—why not just stay in her room and lock the door? Daphne, her daughter, was a real brat, though. The other characters in the village are a mix of suspicious and a couple of friendly ones (people Amabel had known before). There are also characters from other Wentworth books like Jane (Smith) March, Molloy, and Police Chief Sir Julian Le Mesurier (‘Piggy’) who make an appearance, but not having read those books, these were not familiar to me. The romance in the story I thought was refreshing being between older people getting another chance, rather than a typical one.

I had only read a Miss Silver mystery before, none of her standalones so didn’t know what to expect when picking this up, but it turned out to be a very pleasant surprise and I enjoyed it thoroughly! Will certainly be reading more of hers soon.

Indian Fictional Detectives- II

In the first part of this post (here), I started taking a look at some Indian fictional detectives, the stories they appear in, and writers who wrote them, for, as I mentioned in that post, I really didn’t know much about fictional detectives from Indian stories since many of them appeared in languages I don’t know, and as a result, don’t read in. Also, as I mentioned in that post, the ones I’ve come across on my searches so far have mostly been from Bengali detective fiction, with a couple from Tamil detective fiction. (There are a bunch that have appeared in detective fiction in English–those I’ll also go into, but in a separate post.) This post features another set of detectives, all from Bengali fiction. So here goes.

Debendra Bijoy Mitra, Arindham Basu, and Gobindoram

Debendra Bijoy Mitra, Arindham Basu, and Gobindoram were detectives created by author Panchkari Dey (1873-1945). The three appeared in twenty-eight stories written between the 1910’s and 1920s. These include ‘Neelbashna Sundari‘ (‘The Beauty in Blue’), ‘Maya Bini‘ (‘Mysterious Lady’), and ‘Hartoner Naola‘ (‘The Trick of the Cards’). While seen as the first ‘indigenously conceived’ detective stories, these are however also described as ‘Western Tales in Eastern Garb’. Of the detectives, Mitra and Basu adopt a hybrid form of dress including the Indian dhoti, but pleated shirts, and Derby shoes. Also like in the stories by Priyanath Mukhopadhyay (below), Mitra and Basu are employed as police officials under the colonial government, and work in and around Calcutta. And Basu is Mitra’s grandfather-in-law. [I couldn’t find anything about Gobindoram, other than his name].

Panchkari Dey
Digital Library of India [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Parashor Barma

Created by writer Premendra Mitra, Parashor Barma is a fictional detective whose passion is poetry; in fact he is a poet, though not a very good one. Like Byomkesh and Feluda (and literally, most fictional detectives from any language), he is accompanied by Kirttibhas Bhadra, editor of a magazine, and the narrator of the stories. Parashor relies on his intuition, sense of humour, and poetry, and like Poirot ‘his little grey cells’ to solve his cases, though he seems to approach them rather casually, which annoys Kirttibhas. He first appeared in ‘Goyenda Kabi Parashor‘ (Parashor, the Poet-Detective) in 1932.

Kiriti Roy

Standing six and a half feet tall, fair, and stout, and described as the ‘most stylish detective’ is Kiriti Roy, a detective created by Dr. Nihar Ranjan Gupta. He wears a ‘long coat and cap’ and has ‘a briar pipe hanging from his lips’, and while at home, he wears a silk kimono and tatami grass slippers. The stories are set in the 1940s. Roy’s clients are affluent, including royalty and zamindars. His is assisted by Subrata Roy, who also narrates some of the stories. The author, Dr Nihar Ranjan Gupta was a dermatologist (having also served in the army as a doctor during the second world war), as well as a novelist. He has written over 200 novels, short stories, and other writings. The Kirtti Roy stories have also been adapted for movies, as well as radio.

Col. Niladri Sarkar

Col. Niladri Sakar, a retired colonel and detective, was created by author Syed Mustafa Siraj (author of over 150 novels and 300 short stories) in stories for children. The colonel is a naturist, butterfly collector, and orinthologist, and is said to look like Santa Claus. The stories are as always narrated by his sidekick, in this case, a lazy journalist called Jayanta. The first story appeared in 1970. The stories have been translated into various Indian languages but only one collection, The Colonel Investigates, appeared in English in 2004.

Darogar Daphtar by Priyanath Mukhopadhyay

This one is not a specific detective but a periodical titled Darogar Daphtar or the Inspector’s Office, which was the first ever in Bengali dedicated to crime stories, and which was the first detective fiction in the language. The author Priyanath Mukhopadhyay, served for thirty-three years in the detective department of the Calcutta Police force, and wrote stories based on his own experiences in the force. His views however were of one working under the British administration, and thus inimical to his own countrymen, though in a later story ‘Ingrej Dakait’ (‘Englishman Dacoit’), he ‘obliquely hinted at evil in the colonisers’ psyche’ (here). The stories appeared in several volumes.

So this is my next set. I am still on the look out for more detectives from fiction in Indian languages so will be writing further posts when I have enough. [I haven’t read or come across any of these detectives before so all the information and descriptions are entirely from wikipedia and other sources I’ve listed below.] In the meanwhile, as mentioned, I will also be writing one on Indian fictional detectives in English.

Have you read or heard of any of the ones in my list? Any others that you have read which I can include? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!

Shelf Control #77: The Case of the Careless Kitten by Erle Stanley Gardner

Wednesday, the 12th of February–Shelf Control time once again! A weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, Shelf Control celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. To participate, simply pick a book from your TBR pile, and write a post about it–what its about, what makes you want to read it, and such. Link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to check out your picks!

Writing my review/check-in of how I’ve been doing in Shelf Control posts so far (here) last week, I noticed that while I have featured mysteries quite a few times (as expected), it wasn’t as much as I’d thought. So here’s another one! 😀 This time a Perry Mason Mystery–The Case of the Careless Kitten by Erle Stanley Gardner.

First published in 1942, this is book 21 in the Perry Mason series. In this one, banker Franklin Shore disappeared ten years ago, leaving all his money behind. Now, his niece Helen Kendell mysteriously receives a phone call from Franklin urging her to contact Perry Mason. But before she knows it, she becomes a suspect in the murder of an unfamiliar man. Meanwhile, her kitten and her aunt have both survived attempts at poisoning. Her aunt, in fact, was one who maintained that Franklin was alive. The poisoning attempts, disappearance, and murder also seem to be connected to a long buried check-forging scheme. Franklin’s brother Gerald is a key suspect. This presents a highly complex puzzle even for the brilliant mind of Perry Mason, as always assisted by Della Street, and private detective Paul Drake. This one has been described as one of the ‘most highly praised cases’ and ‘one of the best Perry Mason tales’.

This was a book I picked up (second hand) a long time ago, and had in fact planned to read when I reading my animal and bird themed books (books which had animals or birds in their titles) a couple of years ago, but I ended up putting this in a shelf behind a whole row of books (pretty much all of my shelves have double rows) and couldn’t find it till I rearranged my shelf, and then didn’t get down to reading it since. But I certainly do want to pick it up soon now.

The author: Erle Stanley Gardner (1889-1970) was an American lawyer, and author of among others the Perry Mason mysteries, as well as the Bertha Cool and Donald Lam stories, Doug Selby stories, and Gramps Wiggins stories. Gardner wrote under his own name as well as several pseudonyms including A.A. Fair, Charles M. Green, and Robert Parr. Besides full-length mystery novels, Gardner also wrote short stories as well as non-fiction, particularly travel writings, including on his trips to Baja and Mexico.

Have you read this one? How did you find it? Which series by Gardner do you like the most (I enjoy the Perry Mason books, but also love the ones with Gramps Wiggins a lot, though there only a couple). Any particular titles you’d recommend? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!

Info on the book is from the blurb at the back of my copy and Goodreads (here), and on Erle Stanley Gardner from Wikipedia (here); a full bibliography of his works is listed on Wikipedia (here)

Shelf Control #76: Enquiry by Dick Francis #Mystery #TBR

Wow! February already-time certainly flies! Wednesday, the 5th–Shelf Control time! A weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, Shelf Control celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. To participate, all you do is pick a book from your TBR pile, and write a post about it–what its about, what makes you want to read it, and such. Link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to check out your picks!

This week on Shelf Control, I’me featuring an author that I haven’t written of before in any post so far (Shelf Control or others, if I remember right), though I’ve read and enjoyed quite a few of his books. My pick this week is Enquiry By Dick Francis. Dick Francis is an author I began reading only a few years ago but my parents have been reading and enjoying his books for years so we have a lot of them at home. Enquiry though was not one of these and I bought a copy second-hand online, since I came across this and found it was one we didn’t have. This one was first published in 1969.

Like most (though not all) of Francis’ other mysteries, Enquiry too is set against a horse-racing background. And as the name suggests, it is to do with an enquiry–a racing one, and one that has been rigged. Kelley Hughes, steeplechase jockey (but no ordinary one; he holds a degree from LSE, and was aiming for the civil service) and trainer Dexter Cranfield are disqualified after a summary/rigged enquiry from racing, being accused of throwing a race for money. Hughes is not guilty of course, and having nothing to lose decides to investigate the matter himself and clear their names (Cranfield has pretty much given up). But as always, while Hughes is intelligent, his adversaries are vicious, and if he isn’t careful, he might end up getting himself killed. Does he manage to solve the mystery; and clear their names?

I’ve enjoyed all the Dick Francis mysteries I have read so far, more or less: they are fast paced, with some twists, but what I don’t like about them is that they do get a tad too violent for me sometimes. Still I enjoy the racing settings, and the few tidbits I pick up about whichever world or aspect of racing he has set it around. This one (I’ve picked up a lot of this description from my mother’s Goodreads review) is supposed to be slower than his usual, but I still think it would be an enjoyable read.

The Author: Richard Stanley (‘Dick’) Francis was a steeplechase jockey winning over 350 races. He was also jockey to the Queen Mother. He started his writing career with The Sport of Queens in 1957 and published his first thriller, Dead Cert in 1962. He wrote over 40 bestsellers producing pretty much one book each year. He won the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar award three times, the only author to do so till now. He was made an OBE in 1983 and CBE in 2000.

Have you read any of Francis’ books? Which one/s? Did you enjoy them? Any others set around racing themes that you read/come across? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!

Descriptions of the book are from goodreads (here) and of Francis on wikipedia (here)

Indian Fictional Detectives -I

As a child, I read a lot of Enid Blyton mystery stories, then moved on to Poirot and Marple, and Sherlock Holmes and several others (I love mysteries, after all), but somehow never really read any detective stories from my own part of the world. The only detective I was familiar with was Byomkesh Bakshi (in detail below), and much later Feluda (also below), and now some that have appeared in more recent detective fiction (like Perveen Mistry in A Murder at Malabar Hill). So I thought of looking into this and identifying some Indian fictional detectives who I may not have come across because of not being familiar with the languages the stories were written in. In looking them up, I have found a few, and so will be writing a couple of posts listing them out and describing the stories. One may not get to read all these since they aren’t available in translation but I certainly would like to pick up those that are.

Byomkesh Bakshi

Byomkesh Bakshi is the detective who’s most familiar to me, and I guess many or most others because primarily of the television adaptation in Hindi in the early 1990s (the cover of the first volume above is from the show). Written by author Saradindu Banyopadhyay in Bengali, these stories (thirty-two of them) were published between 1932 and 1970, and in addition to the mysteries themselves, bring out the atmosphere of 1930s (and later) Calcutta where they are set. Byomkesh calls himself a ‘satyanveshi’ or ‘truthseeker’ rather than a detective. In the stories, he is usually accompanied by writer Ajit Bandhyopadhyay who is his chronicler, or rather his Watson. In one of his cases, he meets Satyabati and marries her; and as the stories go on, he grows older as well. Initially he is described as being twenty-three or twenty-four years old. A few of the stories (I don’t think all) are available in translation; one that I’ve read Picture Imperfect and Other Stories (translated by Sreejata Guha) is really well done. Other collections are Menagerie and Other Byomkesh Bakshi Mysteries (also translated by Guha), and The Rhythm of Riddles: Three Byomkesh Bakshi Mysteries translated by Arunava Sinha.

Feluda

Another detective that I am more familiar with (having read at least one story and from movie adaptations) is Feluda or Prodosh Chandra Mitra, also a Bengali fictional detective, appears in stories by the well-known movie-director and author Satyajit Ray. In his adventures, he is accompanied by his young cousin Tapash Ranjan Mitra, called Topshe, and from the sixth story Sonar Kella (The Golden Fortress), they are joined by a detective-story writer, Lalmohan Ganguly, who writes under the pen-name Jatayu. Feluda is based on Sherlock Holmes, who he is also shown to admire. In his adventures, he travels quite a bit within the country, and also at times abroad; in one instance they travel to Kathmandu, in another to London. Feluda is described as being tall (6’2) and twenty-seven-years old, and while adept in martial arts, it is his analytical skills that he uses to solve mysteries. He writes in Greek in his notebooks and has knowledge of all sorts of trivia. Maganlal Meghraj is an arch-villain who appears in three of the stories. There are a total of thirty-five published and 4 unpublished (incomplete) Feluda stories. His cases include murder, theft, and smuggling. These stories are all available in translation in two volumes.

Sankarlal/Shankarlal

Shankarlal/Sankarlal appears in Tamil detective novels by Tamilvanan (Lakshmanan Ramanathan Chettiar). The author’s works are known for his use of only Tamil without any loan words, or dialect. Shankarlal travels the world solving mysteries and battling criminals. He famously drinks copious amounts of tea when working on a case. In the stories, he travels with his wife Indira and servants Karthikai and Manickam. He is recognised by his black hat and sunglasses. Shankarlal is said to be modeled on Edgar Allan Poe’s Dupin, in his racocinative powers, as are the stories generally with police officials less imaginative than the detective. Another blogger (here) compares him to both Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot, combining at times trips to the crime scene to collect evidence, and at others Poirot-style denouements inviting everyone concerned. He appeared in Manjal Araiyain Marmam (Mystery of the Yellow Room), Ratta Sottu (Blood Drops), and Marma Manidhan (Missing Man), among others.

Thuparrium Sambu

Sambhu, also from Tamil detective stories, is in contrast a not-very-bright middle-aged bank clerk, often referred to as ‘that idiot’ by his boss, who solves the most difficult puzzles by luck rather than intellect, but is still quick to explain and take credit for them. The stories by author Devan (R. Mahadevan) portray life in Chennai/Madras between the 1920s and 1940s, and are known for their humour. In the stories, he is described ‘as having a prominent pointy nose and bald fringe’, and a ‘vacant look’. His adventures begin when he is fired from the bank at which he works for letting a corrupt bank manager escape. He goes on to trap the manager in a later story. The stories have been adapted for two television series in the late 1980s and early 1990s, as well as in a comic. Sambhu is also said to be the inspiration for the character Shikari Shambhu (‘Hunter Shambhu’) who appears in the Tinkle comics. He is also seen as resembling Inspector Clouseau (here).

Shikari Shambu Comic

Jayanta-Manik

Source: Amazon.in

Jayanta and Manik are a detective duo created by Bengali writer Hemendra Kumar Roy. They are amateur detectives who solve mysteries privately and help the police; Inspector Sundar Babu, a comical character, often seeks their help in solving cases. Wikipedia lists thirty-two works in which they appear, though not whether these are short stories or full length novels.

So, this was the first set of Indian fictional detectives; I will be writing another post soon on some more that I have found. In my searches, I have only come across fictional detectives from Bengali fiction, and a couple from Tamil stories but nothing from other regions/languages so far. If you are aware of any, do let me know in the comments so that I can look them up and include them too. And I’d also love to know about lesser known fictional detectives from other languages (not necessarily from India). If you’ve read any and enjoyed them (or not), let me know in the comments. And of course, if you’ve read any of the ones on my list, do let me know which ones and how you liked them!

Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!

All cover images are from goodreads; the one from Jayanta-Manik is from Amazon.in