#718: Blue Murder (1942) by Harriet Rutland

Blue Murder

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I read the first half of Blue Murder (1942), the third and final novel by Harriet Rutland, in a single gasp.  It’s a fascinating opening, deliberately short on setting and description so as to emphasise the characters you’re going to be spending the book with, and it drew me like a moth to a flame, eager for the destruction to come. From the outset, when headteacher Mr. Hardstaffe learns that his affairs are being gossiped about by the village schoolchildren and calls them “little bastards!” for showing such disrespect, we’re clearly not in the genteel arm of GAD, and it’s only a matter of how savagely Rutland develops from here. And, as things progress, we seem to ring more than a few changes.

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#715: The Woman in the Wardrobe (1951) by Peter Shaffer [a.p.a. by Peter Antony]

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The one thing a book cannot guard against is the expectations that build up around it — and the rarer a book proves to be, the more apocryphal its contents, the higher those expectations tend to rise. The Woman in the Wardrobe (1951) by Peter Shaffer has been staggeringly unobtainable for decades now and, with no less an authority than Robert Adey promising “a brilliant new solution” for its locked room murder, had much to live up to. We can’t blame the book for the solution not being new — not even slightly, Bob — but we can blame it for the flaws that disappointingly crop up in several key regards.

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#712: The Thursday Murder Club (2020) by Richard Osman

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I really should not have enjoyed The Thursday Murder Club (2020) as much as I did. I’m an avowed devotee of the rigour of Freeman Wills Crofts and I have a nerdy podcast where we get far too serious about the minutiae of classic era detective fiction, for pity’s sake — a lightly comedic crime novel in which a group of septuagenarians inveigle their way into a murder investigation while worrying about the quality of supermarket own-brand biscuits should not raise from me even a curious eyebrow. And yet, honestly, I loved it. I don’t think I’ve been this charmed in years, and I haven’t laughed so much and so helplessly since reading Catch-22 (1961) when I was about 17.

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#709: The African Poison Murders, a.k.a. Death of an Aryan (1939) by Elspeth Huxley

African Poison Murders

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Elspeth Huxley’s Murder on Safari (1938) used its uncommon milieu and the author’s own experiences of life in Kenya as a young girl to enrich what might have otherwise been a ham-handed attempt to introduce some ‘variety’ into the annals of detective fiction. Its reliance on the trappings of safari life, and on the general ignorance of her policeman Superintendent Vachell to introduce the unfamiliar aspects to the reader, worked well with some unusual clues to mark it out as a very accomplished piece of detective fiction…right up until the reveal of the killer, when it all sort of fell apart. And lightning, it seems, has struck twice…

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