Titles: The Murder at Sissingham Hall and The Mystery at Underwood House, Angela Marchmont books 1 & 2
Author: Clara Benson
Setting: England, 1920s
Looking for a mystery along the lines of Hercule Poirot, Lord Peter Wimsey or Albert Campion? These might just be right up your alley. They have the fun of the Lady Daisy Dalrymple series by Carola Dunn.
Our sleuth is Angela Marchmont, a charming divorcee who has a bit of a past with British espionage, although this is disappointingly vague. The first book involves the murder of a wealthy gentleman during a house party, just when his wife’s former beau has returned to England from making his fortune in Africa. The second book is about a mysterious family curse that’s wiping out the members of the Haynes family once per year and the family reunion has struck again. Angela is on the scene, with a little obliging help from Scotland Yard, but I found it much too obvious who the culprit was in each case.
These are the kind of comforting reads that I gravitate towards when I need something soothing and light, something where it all works out in the end and my brain doesn’t have to work too hard. It’s the literary equivalent of chicken soup and crackers, or a nice bowl of ice cream. Maybe that’s not fair, but sometimes that’s just what I want. These are available through Kindle Unlimited too, so they’re worth trying.
Title: The Tuesday Club Murders or The 13 Problems (Miss Marple #2)
Author: Agatha Christie
Setting: England 1930s or so
Format: physical book
Plot: Author Raymond West is staying with his aunt in the country. One evening at a dinner with friends, he proposes that they each relate a mystery, then see who can come up with the best solution to the story. To his surprise, sweet little Aunt Jane wins every time.
Reaction: I love Miss Marple. I always pictured her as a sweet, white-haired lady with “a mind like a steel trap,” as a police acquaintance says. Now that I’ve seen the mysteries with Joan Hickson in the role, I can’t imagine anyone else. She’s deceptively mild, but oh, what a wicked tongue she has when she wants to. Miss Marple was always very much a gentlewoman, but not always a gentle woman.
While I prefer the longer books like The Body in the Library, the nice thing about the short stories is that you can pick them up when you just have a few minutes to read and then put it down again without worrying about remembering where you were in the story next time. I’ve been working on rereading this one for a couple of months, and I never felt any rush to finish, just a bit of happiness every time I picked it up.
My favorite story is the one told by glamorous actress Jane Hillyer of a burglary. If you haven’t read Miss Marple before, I think I’d recommend starting with the first one, Murder at the Vicarage.
(Above: Homicide squad, NYPD 1970s. Fashion was their true victim.)
Sick to Death by Douglas Clark
End of Chapter by Nicholas Blake
At the end of every month, my library takes all the book sale books and marks them down to $1/bag. At a price like that, it’s easy to just grab several, in the hope that one of them will be a real winner. Both of these books were in my latest haul. Neither was a real winner, but they weren’t a waste of time either.
The first book features a pair of English detectives who don’t like each other paired up to investigate the death of a pretty young diabetic girl. The second features a private gentlemanly type detective called in to find out who’s causing trouble at a English publishing house. Both were written and published in the 1970s.
One definite thing about these books – they are white. Really white. Kind of like that picture up there. Apparently people of color had not been invented in England in the 1970s. Neither had female cops. Women are around, but mostly as victims, secretaries, suspects, nurses, and even – wow – as a publishing executive. So Blake wins on that one, but not by much.
I won’t spoil the ending for you, although odds are small that anyone else will actually read these two. But the books are fairly predictable, and I spotted the murderers without any trouble. Our private eye gets attacked – shock! – but of course, he’s fine. The characters are also predictable, flat, and kinda dull. Motive and solution are pretty straightforward, with again, the edge given to Blake.
I have read some by Blake before – The Widow’s Cruise and Thou Shell of Death were both better than this one – but Clark was a new author. I won’t bother to seek out anything else by these two, but if I find something by them, I think I will read it too. There’s a nostalgic old-fashioned sort of mindlessness in reading books like this. It’s sort of like watching an old episode of Dragnet or something – fun just because it’s so foreign to a modern viewer. 2.75 stars for Clark, 3 for Blake.