With a new school year about to start, and Peter F. Hamilton’s 1,152-page epic Pandora’s Star (2004) crushing the peak of Mount TBR, I’m going to take a break from blogging in September. But here’s one last trip with Jupe, Pete, and Bob before I go.
Part of the fun of this blogging collective with its focus primarily on classic style mysteries is seeing the individual enthusiasms of bloggers and commenters alike assert themselves. To pick just three, I’ve turned into quite the most unexpected fan of Freeman Wills Crofts, Puzzle Doctor is soon to convert us all to the joys of Brian Flynn, and TomCat has derived great pleasure from the works of John Russell Fearn. And it’s nice to share in a joy with someone, so through an uncertain combination of runic alchemy and liturgical dance, I ended up at the conclusion that Death in Silhouette (1950) would be the next Fearn for me to try, and here we are.
At some point in the 1980s, Britain started pumping out crime fiction by authors who literary darlings could feel smug about admitting they slum it with: Colin Dexter, P.D. James, Ruth Rendell, and today’s experiment, Reginald Hill, among others — authors I’ve sampled here and there and who generally leave me cold. My precise objection to them is difficult to pin down, but they seem to me to be forcing upon the genre a staid acceptability it neither needed nor flourishes under, and that’s something I can’t get further into without reading more of it…and, well, I’m reluctant to do that. A Killing Kindness (1980) perfectly exemplifies why.
Bill Hamilton, having previously chased hashish smugglers and a werewolf (separately) around Spain, now finds himself in his homestead of Gibraltar contending with a “London particular” fog, three murdered men hanging from the rafters of an abandoned storehouse, and a mysteriously faceless nun intent on causing all manner of havoc. Yes, The Terror in the Fog (1938) is quite unmistakably a Norman Berrow novel — this mixture of superstition and cold, hard murder is Berrow’s bailiwick, and here are glimpses of the very fine novels he would go on to produce — and from early on it feels by far the most confident of his career to this point.
I don’t think I’ve ever disliked the cast of a novel as much as I disliked the core group of The Rose in Darkness (1979) by Christianna Brand. Goddamn, what a bunch of self-centred, self-congratulatory, self-satisfied, smug, pretentious, vacuous, condescending, poseur, low-rent hipster prigs. You say ‘bohemian’, I say ‘unbearable’ — were people really like this in the Seventies? And, because Brand does her usual thing of telling you up front that there’s one victim and one killer, you know that once the body turns up you’re stuck with the rest of them until the end. Good heavens, there’s never a serial killer around when you need one.
Cometh the hour, cometh the man. After a debut that laid the cornerstone of a new genre and three succeeding works exploring the principles of that genre from varying perspectives, now begins Freeman Wills Crofts’ 30-novel (plus however-many short stories) relationship with Inspector Joseph French. At this stage it’s difficult to judge how French differs from his antecedents Burnley, Lafarge, Tanner, Willis, Vandam, and Ross, but I guess we’ll never know whether French was ever initially conceived as more than a one-book man like those others. The title certainly suggests so, but history shows otherwise.
It had been my intention to review a book by a new-to-me author this week, but thankfully I was able to get to it a little ahead of time and watch disconsolately as, after a bright start, it fizzled out to nothing (man, some Silver Age stuff has a lot to answer for…). Instead, here’s another from John Dickson Carr’s era of tight, house-set puzzles which range from masterpieces (The Reader is Warned (1939), The Seat of the Scornful (1941)) to very good (The Crooked Hinge (1938), The Emperor’s Snuff-Box (1942)) to, er, Seeing is Believing (1941). And with The Gilded Man (1942) being somewhat overlooked, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was going to get…