Mondays are for Murder: Resorting to Murder (Holiday Mystery Anthology)…

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Welcome to another fiendishly murderous Monday! Today I have a collection for you, featuring short stories from some well-known writers of classic British mystery. Resorting to Murder: Holiday Mysteries, edited by Martin Edwards, is just one in a collection of mystery anthologies on different themes that are due for release this year. Unsurprisingly, today’s collection is based (mostly) around that great British destination for relaxation: the seaside. I received a copy of this title from the publisher via Netgalley for review.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Holidays offer us the luxury of getting away from it all. So, in a different way, do detective stories. This collection of vintage mysteries combines both those pleasures. From a golf course at the English seaside to a pension in Paris, and from a Swiss mountain resort to the cliffs of Normandy, this new selection shows the enjoyable and unexpected ways in which crime writers have used summer holidays as a theme.

Resorting to murder

The Usual Suspects:

This section should probably read not so much “the usual suspects” but “mostly the kind of suspects you’d expect, with a few absolute twisters thrown in”. There are nefarious family members motivated by greed, wives and husbands motivated by the desire to get rid of their wife or husband, business associates, people pretending to be other people and just about every trope you could think of popping up somewhere in this collection. A disturbing lack of retired Colonels back from the sub-continent, though.

The Hunt for the Murderer/s:

Once again, the hunts take many forms, but the majority involve a private detective or a police detective taking the expected route. In one memorable story however, the murderer is never found and in others, it’s not exactly clear whether a murder has happened at all.

Overall Rating:

 poison clip art poison clip art poison clip art poison clip art

 

Four poison bottles for an invigorating seaside holiday featuring sand, sunburn and serial killing (or rather, killing in serial)

I really enjoyed this anthology, for the fun trip through classic British murder mysteries, as much as getting to dip my toe into the writing styles of a bunch of mystery writers from the first half of the twentieth century without having to commit to reading a whole novel. The opening tale by Arthur Conan Doyle set the tone nicely, with a typical “locked room” type mystery that helped me to warm up to the task of solving multiple, unrelated murders by the end of the book. There are also a veritable slew of detectives to acquaint one’s self with, so if you were under the impression that Poirot was the only one getting freelance and solving murders, this book will really open your eyes!

I particularly enjoyed Murder! by Arnold Bennett (as much for the exclamation mark in the title, as for the twist in the story), while The Vanishing of Mrs Fraser by Basil Thomson was simultaneously ridiculously far-fetched and utterly compelling. In fact, I think Thomson’s mystery was my favourite of the lot.

There are more in this anthology series (two just in time for Christmas, apparently!) so I suspect these will find their way onto my TBR list. If you are in the mood for a holiday of the mind that involves skullduggery in bite-sized chunks, I would definitely recommend packing this one in your bedside drawer.

Until next time,

Bruce

Mondays with Marple: A break in transmission…

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Welcome once again to the reasonably self-explanatory Mondays with Marple, in which we discuss Agatha Christie’s works featuring the delightful Jane Marple.  Today I’m doing things a bit differently, because I’m going to present to you a book that doesn’t feature Miss Marple, and of which Agatha Christie has only written a chapter.  The reason I’ve chosen this one is because I immediately became enamoured of the premise under which it was written and couldn’t wait to dive in and see how it all turned out.

The Floating Admiral is today’s book and it is a collaborative murder mystery written, chapter by chapter, by the members of The Detection Club, circa 1931.  What is the Detection Club? Well, it was a club comprised of a whole host of authors of crime fiction who met regularly to eat, drink and be merry.  Essentially, in the creation of The Floating Admiral, they decided to collaboratively write a murder mystery – but with a twist.  Here’s how it went down:

* Each author got to write one chapter of the mystery, which they then passed on to the next person in line to continue

* One author was chosen to tie all the loose ends together and reveal the murderer/s in the final chapter

* The authors, along with their chapter, had to include their solution to the mystery in a sealed envelope.  These were printed as an appendix at the end of the novel

* The authors had to “play fair” by the reader – that is, they couldn’t use any twee tropes such as “it was all a dream” to get out of solving the mystery, and they had to assume that any clues or characters included in the chapters before theirs was included for a reason and therefore needed to feature in some way in their proposed solution

Isn’t this a GREAT IDEA??! Well, I thought it was, and that’s why I’m reviewing it today.  All up there were 14 contributors,, including (in writing order): G. K. Chesterton, Canon Victor Whitechurch, G. D. H. Cole and Margaret Cole, Henry Wade, Agatha Christie, John Rhode, Milward Kennedy, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ronald Knox, Freeman Wills Crofts, Edgar Jepson, Clemence Dane and Anthony Berkeley.

floating admiralPlot Summary:

When the vicar’s boat is found floating aimlessly down the river, no one expects it to contain the body of the his neighbour, the retired Admiral Penistone, featuring a nasty stab wound.  Inspector Rudge is called to take the case and immediately finds himself stymied when the Admiral’s niece and mysterious fiance leave town before they can be adequately questioned.  But this isn’t going to be Rudge’s only trouble – with the vicar clearly behaving in a slightly shady fashion, and some very odd stipulations in the Admiral’s will, it’s going to take all of Rudge’s wits (and some local knowledge of the tidal river currents) to unravel this mystery.

The Usual Suspects:

The slightly-unhelpful-while-appearing-to-be-helpful vicar, the niece of the victim (complete with attitude), the somewhat-shady fiance of said niece, the local old sea dog, a collection of house staff with secrets, a retired acquaintance of the deceased, and a number of absent relatives and hangers-on that may or may not have anything to do with the current circumstances.

Level of Carnage:

Reasonably low for most of the book, although towards the end there is a bit more reasonably graphic carnage to liven things up.

Level-of-Wiley-Tricksiness:

High.  Given that there’s 12 people adding to the story, the level of tricksiness is cumulative.  There are red herrings all over the place here and more arrive with every chapter.

Overall Rating:

 

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Three Abandoned Punts

While the premise for the mystery excited me to begin with, it did take a long time to play out and the plot was pretty convoluted by the end.  The narrative ended up being not so much dialogue driven, as is the case with many Christie novels, but featured a lot of introspection on the part of Inspector Rudge as he works through the case.  I felt that an extra detective or assistant would have helped in this regard to avoid slowing the narrative too much – one of the chapters features 39 articles of doubt, in which Rudge postulates on 39 of the most puzzling bits of the case. At great length.  Which was good for getting everyone up to speed on what was happening and where the investigation might go next, but also became quite tedious after about article 20 or so.

The best thing about this book for me was the opportunity to sample the work of a whole lot of mystery writers who were contemporaries of Christie, and whose work I might like to try in the future.  Also, reading all the solutions at the end and the comments from the authors in the vein of “I’ve got no idea where such-and-such comes into it!” really brought home the idea that for the people that wrote it, mystery writing really was like a game of intellect that was fun to unravel.

Definitely give this one a go if you’re a fan of mystery writing from this era, but keep in mind that the end result was more a game for the writers than an exemplary piece of crime fiction for the readers.

Until next time,

Bruce

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