Sparkling Cyanide

Beautiful, vivacious Rosemary Barton is enjoying a glass of champagne at her birthday celebrations when she’s seen slumped across the table, not drunk but dead. Poison is the method chosen for April’s ReadChristie challenge, and Rosemary’s ‘blue cyanosed face’ points towards death by cyanide.

The novel opens a year later with the six people who were at the party reflecting on Rosemary and in particular on that horrible night. George Barton, her kind but dull husband; her sister Iris Marle who lived with Rosemary and George (and their widowed aunt, Lucilla Drake); Ruth Lessing, George’s indispensable secretary; Anthony Browne, a friend of Rosemary’s; Stephen Farringdon, an up and coming member of parliament and Alexandra, his proud professional wife.

The cause of death has been recorded as suicide, but this doesn’t seem possible for someone as happily alive as Rosemary. George has his doubts which seem to be confirmed when some anonymous notes arrive claiming she was murdered. But how could she have been, there’s no evidence that anyone around the table put the cyanide in her glass and any way who would have wanted to kill her?

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Bats In The Belfry

Another corker from E.C.R. Lorac, this time in the shadowy back streets of London where a body is found entombed in the wall of the Belfry, a gloomy house occupied by a sculptor – plaster of paris has never been so sinister.

The plot revolves around Bruce Attleton, a once successful author now suffering with writers block and his wife Sybilla, a glittering actress. The opening scene introduces the central characters in the story, as they gather in the Attleton’s drawing room following the funeral of Bruce’s young cousin Anthony Fell. As the whisky flows the conversation turns to the macabre and they discuss how best to dispose of a body, a conversation they’ll reflect on when Bruce goes missing. . .

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Murder is Easy

For the ReadChristie2023 challenge, March was a month with a motive – Anger. I chose to read Murder is Easy because it’s completely new to me and I will say it was a good choice. A bit creepy, a bit of romance, suspense and humour in the quiet village of Wychwood-under-Ashe.

Luke Fitzwilliam is back in England from the Mayang Straits where he’s been working as a policeman. Sharing his first class railway carriage to London is an elderly lady. Lavinia Pinkerton chatters away telling him how unsettled she is by recent deaths in her village, she believes there’s a murderer about and is on her way to Scotland Yard because she suspects nice Dr Humbleby will be next. Luke humours her because she reminds him of his aunt but is inclined to dismiss her as dotty until a couple of days later he notices in the newspaper that not only is Dr. Humbleby dead but Miss Pinkerton was killed in a hit and run outside Scotland Yard.

Luckily Luke has a friend who’s cousin lives in Wychwood-under-Ashe and it’s arranged that Luke can go and stay with her, undercover as a cousin, writing a book on ancient folklore as he investigates.

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Partners In Crime

The ReadChristie2023 prompt for February is a murder method – use of a blunt instrument, and Partners in Crime is the title they’ve chosen.

Tommy and Tuppence Beresford have been happily married for six years and Tuppence in particular is bored. But just as she’s yearning for excitement, Mr Carter (who works in government intelligence) arrives and asks them if they would be willing to take over the now defunct ‘Blunt’s International Detective Agency’ in London. They must pose as the owners and intercept any blue Russian letters that arrive as they search for a secret agent known as 16. But while they’re waiting for messages they can run the place as they wish, so ‘Blunt’s Brilliant Detectives! Any case solved in twenty-four hours!’  is born.

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Sad Cypress

This year I’m going to follow ReadChristie2023, which looks like a fun way of getting back into reading the Queen of Crime. The theme for the year is Motives and Methods and every month they give a particular motive or method and suggest a title for reading.

For January the motive is Jealousy and the suggested read is Sad Cypress.

Sophisticated and beautiful Elinor Carlisle has been in love with Roddy all her life. As their aunt Laura, lies on her sick bed at her country home, Hunterbury Hall, the two, being her only relations, go to visit her and come to an understanding. At last Elinor can look forward to being Mrs Roderick Welman. But then Roddy sees a girl crossing the lawn

‘a girl with pale, gleaming hair and a rose-flushed skin. He thought, ‘How beautiful-how unutterably beautiful.’ . . The world, he felt, was spinning, was topsy-turvey, was suddenly and impossibly and gloriously crazy!’

Oh dear, it’s Mary Gerrard, and Elinor knows that she’s lost Roddy forever unless . . .

Standing in the dock on Thursday July 27th, Elinor is accused of Mary’s murder. All the evidence points towards her, she has the motive and the opportunity but will she plead guilty?

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Two Classic Crime Minis

Not the civilised world of dusty academics or even the cosy world of packages and parcels tied up with string, this is the underbelly of the book trade, where bookshop runners grasp for a particular edition leading to seedy underhand wheeling and dealing that isn’t afraid of theft or even murder.

Bookman Micheal Fisk is celebrating the acquisition of Keats’ own, signed copy of Endymion, staggering home he’s helped by Police Sergeant Jack Wigan, walking his beat (it’s 1956). The two strike up a conversation which leads to friendship and Wigan starting his own book collection. When Fisk is found murdered, the C.I.D call in Sergeant Wigan as someone who knows their way around the book world.

I really enjoyed this one. Lots of characters that were a bit rough around the edges, and some that were just plain rough but all knew a rare edition when they saw it and often remembered exactly where and when. But will they tell? It’s a world of sinister jealousy with its own unwritten collector’s code that the likeable and straightforward Wigan walks in too but he’ll have to race against the clock to catch the murderer.

Death Of A Bookseller (1956), by Bernard J. Farmer is an exciting and thrilling bibliomystery; but Farmer was also a knowledgable bibliophile and former policeman and that lends it an air of authority; not just in the quantity of book lore and bookish detail that’s included but also in the unflappable compassion and sense of justice that Wigan portrays. Definitely an author to look out for.

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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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The Mysterious Affair At Styles

Emily Inglethorp is a wealthy women living with her much younger second husband at Styles Court, her large, isolated, manor house in Styles St.Mary. There are seven people living at Styles: Emily’s step-sons from her first husbands first marriage, John and Lawrence Cavendish; John’s wife Mary, Emily’s companion Evelyn and a young friend of the family Cynthia Murdoch. A group of people all with some connection to each other and all with their own assortment of secrets.

Arthur Hastings has been invalided from the Front and after a spell in a convalescent home has been given a months sick leave. Wondering what to do he runs into his old friend John Cavendish who invites him to spend his leave at Styles, with the family. The house and Emily, Hastings remembers well although he hasn’t been there for years. Tea is spread in the shade of a sycamore tree and Hastings tells them of his hope to be a detective after the war. Indeed, while in Belgium he came across a very famous detective ‘he quite inflamed me. . . He was a funny little man, a great dandy, but wonderfully clever.’ And then on a trip into Tadminster who should Hastings bump into when buying some stamps, but his old friend:

‘”Mon ami Hastings”!’ he cried. “It is indeed mon ami Hastings”!
“Poirot!” I exclaimed.’

With much gratitude, Poirot explains that through the charitable works of Mrs Inglethorp, he is one of a group of Belgium refugees who are living together in Tadminster. So the scene is set and everyone is quickly in place for a good dose of poisoning by strychnine.

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