#1018: “If it’s a new wrinkle in the art of homicide, I want to know all about it.” – The White Priory Murders (1934) by Carter Dickson

It speaks volumes about the excitement that the work of John Dickson Carr provokes in me that, with still around 20 of his novels unread, I’m revisiting some favourite titles from his output. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the likes of the American Mystery Classics and the British Library Crime Classics ranges are putting out such lovely new editions — and who wouldn’t want to revisit Carr in his prime?

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#1013: Fell Murder (1944) by E.C.R. Lorac

Fell Murder

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Another gentle tale of Northern homicide from the pen of E.C.R. Lorac, Fell Murder (1944) was Chief Inspector Robert Macdonald’s first visit to Lunesdale — I’m not entirely sure how many he would make over his career, but I understand it to be more than a few — and finds author and character both having a lovely time. This only falls down for me in comparison to the similarly-set Crook o’ Lune (1953) in that the eventual solution doesn’t feel quite so rigorously proved, relying on a few rather key assumptions which spoil the overall effect. Prior to that, however, Lorac’s melding of character and setting again shows through very strongly, making her popularity easy to understand.

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#1006: Green for Danger (1944) by Christianna Brand

Green for Danger

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I first read Green for Danger (1944) by Christianna Brand about 12 years ago on the back of enthusiastic Agatha Christie comparisons, and came away impressed with its wartime hospital setting but underwhelmed by what I remembered as the seemingly random allocation of guilt to an undeniably surprising party in the finale. Since then, I’ve been assured by reputable sources that the book is in fact rigorously — and very fairly — clewed and warrants re-examination, so its republication in the British Library Crime Classics range is the perfect chance to find out if it does indeed stand on its own or if everyone’s enthusiastic just because they also love the 1946 movie (because, my god, don’t people ever love that movie).

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#997: “Actors never betray themselves…” – Final Acts: Theatrical Mysteries [ss] (2022) ed. Martin Edwards

I tend to read multi-author anthologies over — if I’m honest — a couple of months, to better ameliorate the often wild changes in style and content of each tale. In recent times I’ve sped this process up, so that I’m able to review the annual Bodies from the Library (2018-present) collections on this very blog, so let’s see how I fare doing the same for the latest Martin Edwards-edited collection in the British Library Crime Classics range, eh?

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#993: Crook o’ Lune, a.k.a. Shepherd’s Crook (1953) by E.C.R. Lorac

Crook O'Lune

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I’ve enjoyed mixed fortunes with the work of E.C.R. Lorac, from the high of The Devil and the C.I.D. (1938) to the low of Murder by Matchlight (1945), and a return to her work has always been on the cards. And so, with the British Library kind enough to send me a review copy of Crook o’ Lune (1953), the eleventh title by Lorac to be reprinted in their august Crime Classics series, we return. There can be no denying that Lorac has been a huge success for the BL, undoubtedly allowing the taking of a risk on some more obscure titles elsewhere, so I knew that there were plenty of others in print for me to read if I enjoyed this one.

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#975: Death on the Down Beat (1941) by Sebastian Farr

Death on the Downbeat

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Both versions of Alfred Hitchcock’s The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934/1956) contain excellent scenes in which a killer takes aim at their target in the Royal Albert Hall while the music builds ominously. Sebastian Farr’s Death on the Down Beat (1941) utilises the same idea, but transfers it to an orchestral performance of Richard Strauss’ Ein Heldenleben in the fictional northern city of Maningpool and picks up after the killing, asking what would happen if the murder of an unpopular conductor in such circumstances was investigated a weary detective who just wants to get home to his wife and young children and finds himself frustrated at almost every turn by the intrusion by self-important local types.

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#951: Murder in the Basement (1932) by Anthony Berkeley

Murder in the Basement

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One of my very favourite detective fiction tropes is the Unidentified Corpse.  It’s at the heart of my favourite E.C.R. Lorac book, one of my favourite Freeman Wills Crofts books, and as a mainstay of the work of R. Austin Freeman is put to wonderful use both traditional and inverted. Murder in the Basement (1932) by Anthony Berkeley also invents the Whowasdunin?, giving us a cast of characters from which the corpse will be produced, and not divulging the identity of the victim until the halfway point. Thankfully, given Berkeley’s tendency to commit to a thought experiment regardless of whether the book that comes out of it is any good, he’s also written an entertaining and very witty novel along the way.

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#946: Law and Order – Ranking the First Fifteen Inspector French Novels (1924-36) by Freeman Wills Crofts

With the sixteenth to twenty-fourth novels by Freeman Wills Crofts to feature his series detective Chief Inspector Joseph French due to be republished between now and January 2023 (well, #18, Antidote to Venom (1938), is already available from the British Library) it occurred to me that people might be looking for advice about the first fifteen — all, incredibly, in print.

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#913: “You people have the most cheerful imaginations…” – It Walks by Night (1930) by John Dickson Carr

With the superb British Library Crime Classics range having recently published its one hundredth title, and with doubtless many more books still in its future, the time seems ripe to revisit one of its most exciting reprints, It Walks by Night (1930) the novel-length debut of John Dickson Carr and his first sleuth, Henri Bencolin.

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#897: Jumping Jenny, a.k.a. Dead Mrs. Stratton (1933) by Anthony Berkeley

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Soren Kierkegaard said that life is to be lived forwards but only understood backwards, and the same is true of my reading Anthony Berkeley Cox. I’m reasonably sure that I’ve read the majority of Cox’s novels, but only in revisiting them — with, admittedly, a firmer grounding in the detective genre’s Golden Age which he explored so rigorously in a staggeringly small number of books — do I appreciate what he was trying to do. Jumping Jenny, a.k.a. Dead Mrs. Stratton (1933), for example, is the inversion of every novel of detection written to that point and a vast majority of those written since, and only in seeing this did I finally understand just how damn good it is.

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