#1068: “I like sometimes to escape from the humdrum of detective investigation…” – The Door with Seven Locks (1926) by Edgar Wallace

A title like The Door with Seven Locks (1926) suggests all manner of locked room excitement, hopefully resulting is some impossible crime shenanigans. So imagine my surprise when this ended up being little more than a straight thriller with some (perhaps not unexpectedly, this is Edgar Wallace after all) weird ideas at its core.

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#1064: The Case of the Late Pig (1937) by Margery Allingham

Case of the Late Pig

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I’m in a confusing place with Margery Allingham.  I definitely read three of her books when I started getting into Golden Age detective fiction, one of which, I’m almost certain, was The Beckoning Lady (1955) and very hard work indeed.  A few years passed, and I next thoroughly enjoyed the amoral ingenuity of Police at the Funeral (1931) before stumbling badly over Flowers for the Judge (1936) and sort of abandoning her, faintly dissatisfied. So when The Case of the Late Pig (1937) passed into my hands, the mere 132 pages of this Penguin edition commended themselves as an opportunity to reacquaint myself with the author and see how things go.

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#1015: Epitaph for a Spy (1938) by Eric Ambler

Epitaph for a Spy

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Epitaph for a Spy (1938) places me at the centre of a Venn diagram of two things I heartily dislike — the everyman espionage fiction of John le Carre, and novels whose protagonists cluelessly accidentally their way along — and so I shouldn’t exactly be surprised that these two wrongs have failed to combine to produce something I would enjoy. This story of languages teacher Josef Vadassy strong-armed into helping identify a spy while on holiday at an exclusive French pension is, in fact, riddled with just about every trope and facet of genre fiction that I dislike, and it’s difficult to imagine Eric Ambler’s intent in writing such a book. But, I get ahead of myself…

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#990: Payment Deferred (1926) by C.S. Forester

Payment Deferred

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It seems almost indecent that someone should have the inspiration to write a book like Payment Deferred (1926) before Anthony Berkeley had conceived of his Francis Iles nom de plume and written Malice Aforethought (1931). And yet there’s something unformed about C.S. Forester’s tale of ill-gotten money, murder, and general moral decay that speaks to the callowness of the undertaking. Land sakes, don’t read this if you’re having a bad week — its unrelenting grimness and domestic horror would dent even the sunniest of dispositions — and avoid it, too, if you want a tight criminous plot with even a sniff of Iles-brand irony. This is dark stuff, unleavened at any stage.

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#942: In the Heat of the Night (1965) by John Ball

In the Heat of the Night

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In their debut novel, an outsider is arrested on suspicion of murder in a small town in the southern USA, only to quickly turn out to be innocent and have specialist investigative knowledge which they put to use helping the police and solving the crime. Having highlighted the folly of underestimating someone based on appearances alone, this character goes on to feature in a long-running series of books, two films that will see them forever linked to the actor who portrays them, and a television series. Today, we look at that debut appearance, the first time Jack Reache…uh, Virgil Tibbs sallied forth: In the Heat of the Night (1965) by John Ball.

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#541: The Late Monsieur Gallet, a.k.a. Maigret Stonewalled (1931) by Georges Simenon [trans. Anthea Bell 2013]

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It’s been a number of years since I last read any Georges Simenon — the stark nihilism of The Stain on the Snow (1953) and the diaphanous erotic tragedy of The Blue Room (1964) left an impression if not exactly a desire to read further.  Simenon is hard to ignore, however, partly because he wrote so many damn books and partly because Penguin have done such a fine job of reissuing them lately that they take up about 40% of the shelf space in most bookshops.  I’ve always been of the impression that he is far more about people than plot…which is probably just as well, since on the evidence of this early effort he can’t plot for toffee.

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#288: The Guggenheim Mystery (2017) by Robin Stevens

The mere existence of the_guggenheim_mystery-frontThe Guggenheim Mystery is almost a piece of mystery metafiction in itself: the title was discovered among Siobhan Dowd’s papers following her untimely death in 2007, implying its intention as the follow-up to her impossible disappearance novel for younger readers, The London Eye Mystery (2007)…but no more was known.  It fell to Robin Stevens to puzzle out a plot from these waifish beginnings and so continue the adventures of Ted Spark, his sister Kat, and their cousin Salim.  So here we are — a painting disappears from the eponymous art gallery, the police jump on the most likely suspect, and it falls to this intrepid trio to hunt out the truth, recover the painting, and save the day.

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