The Murder At The Vicarage

First published in 1930, this is the first Miss Marple mystery and is narrated by Leonard Clement the rather meek clergyman of St. Mary Meade who lives with his much younger racier wife, Griselda and 16 year old nephew Dennis.

Through him we get to know the local characters. Colonel Protheroe, the pompous curmudgeon who lives at Old Hall with his second wife Anne, ‘a remarkably handsome women in a rather unusual style’ and his daughter Lettice, a wraith-like creature in a yellow beret; Dr. Haydock and the gossipy cats, as Griselda calls them. When the cats meet for tea and scandal, Leonard seats himself between Miss Marple and Miss Wetherby and introduces us to Miss Marple:

‘Miss Marple is a white-haired old lady with a gentle appealing manner – Miss Wetherby is a mixture of vinegar and gush. Of the two Miss Marple is much the more dangerous.’

Into this quiet village comes an archeologist, Dr. Stone and his secretary, Miss Cram. The enigmatic Mrs Lestrange and Lawrence Redding, a young artist who paints Lettice in her bathing dress and causes a sensation. And then Leonard comes home one day to find Colonel Protheroe dead in his study. Enter Inspector Slack and Colonel Melchett and everything’s in place for a classic whodunnit.

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The Cornish Coast Murder

Another fun mystery from John Bude and I see from the introduction that The Cornish Coast Murder is the debut novel from Ernest Carpenter Elmore writing under his crime novelist pseudonym.

It begins with a really good idea for a book club. The vicar, the Reverend Dodd meets his friend, Dr. Pendrill in his comfortable home near Boscawen, a village ‘clustered about a sandy, rock-strewn cove’. After sherry and an excellent dinner the two bachelors settle in front of the fire with their coffee and open a crate containing six crime novels that has arrived from the library

They each take three novels to read and then swap with each other a few days later before repackaging and returning to the library. They’ve carried on with this ritual for years, each vicariously living the life of a crime buster until an actual murder actually happens in their own quiet village one stormy night and they get to put their ideas into practice.

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Whose Body?

There’s an unfamiliar body wearing nothing but a splendid pair of gold pince-nez in Mr. Thipps’ bath in Battersea. Inspector Sugg arrives from Scotland Yard and arrests Mr. Thipps and the maid on the spot. But when a rich and respected financier disappears from his house in Park Lane it’s clear that this is no ordinary case. Is it the body of Sir Reuben Levy? If it is what’s his connection with Mr Alfred Thipps and if it isn’t whose body is it and where is Sir Reuben?

Luckily Thipps is an architect working on the church roof at Denver, and the Dowager Duchess of Denver on hearing his news phones her son Lord Peter Wimsey directly. Lord Peter drops everything and hot foots it to Battersea where, with his valet Mervyn Bunter (a keen photographer) he gets to work on the case. When they meet with Inspector Parker who’s investigating the disappearance of Sir Reuben Levy the three put their heads together to solve the puzzle.

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Checkmate to Murder

It was a late start this morning because I couldn’t get up until I had finished this brilliant murder mystery!

On one of those wet, pitch-black, pea-soup foggy nights in London the artist Bruce Manaton is in his studio painting the actor André Delaunier in brilliant scarlet Cardinal’s robes while their friends Robert Cavenish and Ian Mackellon play chess and Bruce’s sister Rosanne Manaton makes supper in the kitchen. Into this bohemian den bursts the local Special Constable Lewis Varraby – Albert Folliner, the old miser at number 25 has been found dead, shot in the head, in his bed, a pistol lying next to him and his nephew Neil, (of the Canadian Army), standing over him.

Detective Chief Inspector Macdonald, is called in to arrest the young soldier but with Inspectors Jenkins and Reeves he can see that all is not how it seems

that’s all nice and plain, but I reckon this is a frame-up. It wasn’t just chance I walked in on the old man’s corpse and got copped before I’d time to think. I’m the cat that burns its paws on someone else’s chestnuts, and I don’t like it. You see, I didn’t do it.’

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Murder on a Winter’s Night

Short stories have been my discovery this year, and this collection of ten crime stories didn’t disappoint. Although most of them were set before 1960 a couple were more modern and I enjoyed the difference in attitudes towards the police. And not all were about murder, there was a good helping of burglary and double crossing too. Here’s just a quick thought about my favourites:

The longest story by far was The Undignified Melodrama of the Bone of Contention by Dorothy L Sayers (1928). Lord Peter Wimsey is staying with some friends the Frobisher-Pym’s in the country, and while there gets himself involved in village life as is only polite. There are late night rides along eerie lanes, a spot called ‘Dead Man’s Post’ where George Winter was ‘foully murthered’, sightings of the death coach and a headless horseman and the reading of a strange and macabre will that upsets the family at the big house. This was a lot of fun!

The New Catacomb by Arthur Conan Doyle (1898) is set in Rome, where two young archeologists discuss a catacomb that one of them has just uncovered. This was brilliant, one of those stories where you know almost straight away what’s going to happen but Conan Doyle builds up the tension, teasing the reader until we start to doubt ourselves – and then delivers!

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Murder in the Mill-Race

Dr. Raymond Ferens is thrilled to move from his industrial practice to a picturesque village in the Devon countryside and with his wife Anne they set up home in the Dower House – a study for him, a kitchen for her. Lord and Lady Ridding live in the Manor House, old Dr. Brown is getting ready to leave his practice to Raymond, there’s the church, the post office, farms, and a children’s home that’s been run by Sister Monica for more than 30 years. A formidable warden she wears an old fashioned habit and seems to have a strange hold over the villagers.

And at first all seems idyllic. But. Set on a hill top on Exmoor, Milham in the Moor has cut itself off from neighbouring towns and villages; not trusting strangers or liking questions; so when Sister Monica’s body is found in the Mill-Race the villagers close in on themselves, agreeing only that she was a saint, she had been having dizzy spells and it was an accident. Chief Inspector Macdonald is called in from the Yard with his able deputy Detective Inspector Reeves.

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The Lake District Murder

The Sussex Downs Murder is the BLCC listed on my 10 Books of Summer challenge, but the sea side bookshop I was in only had this one on its shelves, so I stayed with Meredith but on his home patch of Keswick in the Lake District and in 1935 while he’s still a lowly Inspector.

The setting is lovely and having read a couple of other Meredith mysteries it was interesting to see where he came from. The small towns are filled with amiable shop keepers, burly farmers and friendly bank managers and everybody, no matter how criminal carries a dinner basket. His son Tony is an eager to help seventeen year old and his wife worries over the amount of work he does. It’s all very domestic.

But trouble arrives from the south (!). There’s a particularly grizzly suicide in a garage on a lonely stretch of road, and as the investigation gets under way one puzzle just leads to another, and was it suicide after all or could it have been murder? There seems to be a shadier side to these normally quiet coastal towns. But Meredith, on his first solo investigation, puts the whodunit on hold and even the whydunit as he sets out to prove the howdunit.

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Calamity in Kent

In the peaceful seaside town of Broadgate, an impossible crime occurs. The operator of the cliff railway locks the empty carriage one evening; when he returns to work next morning, a dead body is locked inside – a man who has been stabbed in the back.

Luckily, Jimmy London, newspaper reporter, is convalescing in the seaside town and meets Aloysius Bender the lift operator, just after he has discovered the body. The police are called and along with the local constabulary comes Inspector Shelley of Scotland Yard, whose staying in the area with his friend the Chief Constable. Jimmy London and Inspector Shelley have worked together before and distrustful of the local dunderheads decide to team up together to solve the mystery.

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Death Makes A Prophet

Welworth Garden City is a rarefied little town with a plethora of litter baskets and flowering shrubs, and absolutely no bill-boards or pubs. Among its elite it boasts a high percentage of vegetarians, non-smokers and non-drinkers and is the home of the Children of Osiris, usually referred to as the Cult of Coo or Cooism. Founded by Eustace Mildmann, and originally based on the mythology of Ancient Egypt, it has adapted and modernised to include any number of dogmas, until now in 1947, it finds itself ‘an obliging religion because one could find in it pretty well anything one looked for.’

Eustace the High Prophet is a dreamy, softly spoken widower who lives with his son Terence in the mockest of mock-Tudor mansions on Almond Avenue and Peta Penpeti a man with the manners of ‘a French count’ is Prophet-in-Waiting. There are six High Priests of the Inmost Temple but the force behind the movement and the financial prop is the Hon. Alicia Hagge-Smith who manages to increase the numbers from a select few to several thousand. Banded together by a common faith maybe but one that conceals emerging jealousies, intrigue and hostility.

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Death on the Riviera

A counterfeit currency gang are at large on the French Riviera and the French police believe it to be an English set up. A phone call to Scotland Yard sees Detective-Inspector Meredith and Acting-Sergeant Strang pack their bags, open the windows, put the roof down and drive to the South of France hot on the tail of ‘Chalky’ Cobbett.

Bill Dillon, a young Englishman, is also heading to the Riviera and to the Villa Palomo. The villa is owned by Nesta Hedderwick a wealthy widow on a tomato juice diet, who lives with her companion Miss Bertha Pelligrew and a collection of young people – her niece Dilys, the questionable play boy Tony Shenton and his girlfriend Kitty Linden and an artist Paul Latour. When Bill arrives it becomes clear that more than one of them has something to hide and the tension begins to rise.

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