#748: Mining Mount TBR – The Curse of Khatra (1947) by T.C.H. Jacobs

Picture the scene: it is 1946 and T.C.H. Jacobs is discussing his next novel with his agent, lamenting “So many types of detective story have successful during this Golden Age, in what style should I write? Some scientific detection? A police procedural? A pulpy shocker? Should I have an amateur detective? A gentleman detective? A criminal gang?” and his agent leans forwards slowly, steeples his fingers, and says simply, “Yes”.

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#740: The Darker the Night (1949) by Herbert Brean

Darker the Night

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Man, there is a lot to unpack here. Firstly my love of Herbert Brean — an author brought to my attention by TomCat, and about whose books Ben at The Green Capsule and I frequently try to outdo each other in our enthusiasm. Secondly the need for a mystery to sell you on its central premise — here, hypnotism, about which a neat little treatise halfway through. And thirdly the purpose of a mystery novel — does a compelling plot obviate the need for a good mystery, and does a disappointing mystery necessarily detract from a great plot? All this and more we shall confront today with Brean’s second novel The Darker the Night (1949).

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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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#697: This Way Out (1939) by James Ronald

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Malice Aforethought (1931) by Francis Iles, possibly the most famous novel of uxoricide ever written, begins with a line so classic it distracts you from the opening being, well, a bit dull. This Way Out (1939) by James Ronald, similarly concerned with a dissatisfied husband wishing to dispose of his wife, is happy for you to be immersed in the commonplace before hitting you with brilliant lines of its own, but would surely be more more famous if it began with the following from approximately a third of the way through: “While dawn on slippered feet crept through the silent streets Philip lay in bed examining schemes for killing his wife”.

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#693: My Late Wives (1946) by Carter Dickson

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As a reader, there’s a tension to be found at the heart of every writer’s work once it’s a closed set, especially when they’ve scaled the heights that John Dickson Carr did: with nothing else to be added, at what point does The Decline set in?  From Till Death Do Us Part (1944), arguably the pinnacle of his glittering career, it’s a sawtooth diagram of quality all the way to Papa La-Bas (1968), arguably the nadir, but at what point does a downward trajectory become the prevailing trend rather than the occasional, forgivable oversight?  It’s obviously impossible to pick the precise moment — helloooo, subjectivity — which inevitably makes such a moment impossible not to look for.

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#685: The Murders in Praed Street (1928) by John Rhode

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One evening, responding to a phone call from the local hospital requesting that he identify a man involved in an accident, Mr. James Tovey, Fruit and Vegetable Merchant on London’s Praed Street, discovers he’s the victim of a prank and that no such call was made by anyone at the hospital.  On the short walk home, he encounters a group of men outside the local pub and…there endeth his story, for he is stabbed and dies shortly thereafter.  With the group all claiming innocence, and talk of a scar-faced sailor seen in the vicinity, the event is put down to a senseless tragedy until circumstances link it to another death on the same stretch of road.  And another.  And another.

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