Note:The British Library is republishing many of their Classic Crime and Spy novels, with the Poisoned Pen Press responsible for the U.S. editions. There will be twelve published this year and 2016. They will be available in trade paperback and Ebook. Many of these books have been out of print or difficult to find. Some of these Golden Age Crime writers are perhaps unknown to the American audience. Each book features stunning cover art pertinent to the era (20/30s Britain). Of note, Martin Edwards provided guidance for this project as the archivist for CWA (and for Detection Club). Two books feature short fiction edited by Edwards. I have always valued the Poisoned Pen’s collection of mysteries for providing excellent reading experiences; there are over 700 titles. I am looking forward to the reissue of all the British Library Crime Classic novels. I read the following as ARCs from Netgalley, and wish to thank both publishers for bringing these works to light.
Publisher: Poisoned Pen Press, 3 to 3.5 stars***
Genre: English mystery, cozy, mystery, British Library crime classics,
1) Title: Murder in Piccadilly by Charles Kingston (1936, 2015) 314pp
Author: Charles Kingston (O’Mahoney) wrote 25 mystery novels between 1921 and 1945: Stolen Virtue (1921), many London settings (Poison in Kensington [read Dorothy Sayers review!] and The Highgate Mystery) to his last book Fear Followed On (1945). His prose is sparse with quite dry (black) humour, which might not translate well to the American audience, or this era. But they are quite atmospheric and generally easy reads.
This story introduced Chief Insp Wake, a rather grizzled, methodical, dour individual. There are seven in this series. The unsavory cast of English eccentrics made this difficult for me to appreciate as well as dated prose and London accents. This is a drawing room mystery exposing the seedy side of London (Soho nightclubs) with a jaundiced, cynical police force, “minor Bohemian” characters and an aristocratic bourgeois without principles. In the end I didn’t have much sympathy for either the idle rich or the murdered miser. It was hard to like characters that Kingston describes in such unflattering terms, with vices/ human traits. The first half sets the stage/scene with character descriptions/details which provide motive. There are fantastic details of the era, with a nice twist in the mystery solution. This is an interesting, realistic/historical look at London of the 1930s.
A Scream in Soho by John G. Brandon (also recently republished) or
The Piccadilly Murder by Anthony Berkeley (1929)
…falling is love is like falling downstairs- you don’t mean to do either.
It was the crime of the year, something peculiar to London.
How often had Bobbie grumblingly adverted to the fact that everyday his uncle lived he, the misunderstood heir, lost a day’s income.
What’s the use mother, when I’ll have ten thousand a year when Massey dies of overeating?
…ears that resembled cauliflowers waiting their turn to be washed…
“…polygamy on the installment plan…” (Married four times)
2) Title: Capitol Crimes edited by Martin Edwards 343 pp.
Martin Edwards has published 16 crime novels and 50 short stories. He is also the archivist for the Crime Writers’ Association as well as the Detection Club. He is a consultant to the British library in their reissuing of the crime writers of the golden era and as such, selected 17 short stories, set in London. They have been arranged in chronological order from 1893 Case of the Lady Sannox (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) to 1946 You Can’t Hang Twice (Anthony Gilbert). This also illustrates the gradual transition from amateur detective to police procedural. You will find some interesting reads: Campion by Margery Allingham in the Unseen Door, Stealer of Marble by Edgar Wallace, or The Hands of Mr Ottermole by Thomas Burke. I found this edition to be more of a hodgepodge of less readable work, certainly not their best work. Some haven’t stood the hands of time, feeling very dated (manners, class), ‘vintage prose’ even! But as an introduction to their body of work, you might discover a new author.
3) Title: Resorting to Murder: Holiday Murders edited by Martin Edwards 286 pp
This collection of 14 short stories is again presented in chronological published order (1910-1953). These are not action dramas but puzzles and will provide lovely armchair travel to Europe (UK, Switzerland, France). As a themed anthology it is more diverse than expected, given the authors and time period. Several feature well known detectives/sleuths: Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is present in The Adventure of Devil’s Foot, and his brother in law E.W. Hornung’s Dr John Dollar in A Schoolmaster Abroad, and H.C. Bailey’s The Hazel Ice has Mr Fortune, surely the precursor to Lord Peter Wimsey. I simply loved Helen Simpson’s humorous A Posteriori and Basil Thompson’s The Vanishing of Mrs Fraser. I wrote notes about twelve of the stories!
I enjoyed this entertaining series far more than the previous short story anthology, although once again there are vastly different writing styles. Both may lead you to a new author, and both make wonderful summer reads. Short stories are perfect for the beach, the hammock, the commute to work, the plane trip, or by the pool. Don’t forget the Pimms to set the stage. It might just be your cup of tea. It is great to have a chance to read these stories. There is much to chose from and I think you will find many enjoyable reads.
“Although sleuths go on vacation, murder never does.”
The Rochester Public Library does not have the last books of short stories; it it does have several similar books that Edwards has edited for the CWA, including Deadly Pleasures 2013, Guilty Parties 2014, and Golden Age of Murder 2015.