The White Cottage Mystery by Margery Allingham

whiteAn old-fashioned and twisty British crime classic.

This is the first mystery novel (and second novel) for a brilliant mystery writer. It is surprisingly well put together for such an early effort. It doesn’t feature her charming Albert Campion, but instead an avuncular older detective W.T. and his Watson-like son Jerry. The story is more old-fashioned than her others, it reminds me rather of Agatha Christie’s shorter stories but it is novella length.

W.T. is called in on a case of murder – a neighbor has wandered into another man’s house and been shot. From the start it becomes clear that everyone absolutely hates the man and has a motive. The man is even crueler than the average unlikable victim, and a kind of blackmailer who enjoys torturing his victims rather than making money from it.

The suspects are all unique. In the house we find the brimstone and fervour of the servant Estah, the nervous and charming Mrs. Christensen with her little daughter, her feisty sister, and the handicapped war hero husband Mr. Christensen. In the dead man’s household we have the grimy, worm-like Lacy and the mysteriously vanished Mr. Cellini. All have excellent motives and in some cases quite good alibis.

Moving between England and France, the novel does a good job setting the scene without a lot of details. W.T. is very kindly and intelligent, he presses for the truth. His son Jerry is much more the muscle-bound Watson or Hastings, an invaluable help to W.T. but a victim of his own emotions. (Ah, always Hastings you fall for the auburn haired girls!)

The plot is a simple one but continues to open up confusing little twists and sends you scurrying from one suspect to another along with W.T.  I did not predict the ending but like any classic Golden Age novel, it provides an ah-ha moment.

30-day e-book loan courtesy of NetGalley.
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The Female Detective by Andrew Forrester

cover87931-medium (1)A historically significant classic crime book featuring an early female sleuth. 

Published by the fabulous Poisoned Pen PressThe Female Detective is a great find for anyone interested in the history of crime fiction. Originally published in 1864, I’ve heard it claimed this is the first or one of the first female detective books.

The main protagonist is a sort of female Sherlock Holmes who is vastly independent and courageous for the era.

She holds to truth and justice at whatever the cost – even to an evil old man regaining his fortune from the kindest of people.

I had a hard time connecting to her emotionally but as a beginning for the long line of female detectives this is a classic work.

30-day e-book loan courtesy of NetGalley.

Murder Offstage by LB Hathaway

Murderoffstage1

An enjoyable and fun debut featuring a 1920s sleuth and a cursed jewel.

Posie is a feisty private detective in 1920’s London with a gorgeous male assistant who thankfully doesn’t do all the dirty work. She plunges dangerously into situations without always thinking it through and they often go awry, but she makes it up in pluck.

The characters all stand out, which is a feat when juggling so many. The friend and ditzy young heir who is accused of murder (think Freddie Threepwood from Wodehouse’s ‘Leave it to Psmith’) has in fact fallen prey to a stunning femme fatale (think ‘Maltese Falcon’). Inspector Lovelace is the smart, helpful one and Inspector Oates is the grumpy, don’t-tell-me-how-to-do-things one, recognizable from many a Marple. The mastermind behind it all comes across as very Moriarty.

The setting is reasonably developed, picturesque without being over the top and immerses you in London. Every once in a while it lacks detail that would plant me more firmly in the era but overall it did the job well.

There were plenty of twists and turns as to how Posie would navigate her way through, although seasoned readers may be able to guess some pieces earlier.

A Duty to the Dead by Charles Todd

dutyAn elegantly written romantic mystery with a surprisingly gruesome plot.

A Duty to the Dead was quick to read and immersed you instantly into the setting. It had many lovely and quotable passages. I was surprised by how dark the plot was, it featured multiple violent incidents against young children by authority figures.

The main character is Bess, a war nurse who was believably courageous and intelligent with a love of justice from her upbringing in India. She reminds me a lot of Anne Perry’s Charlotte Pitt.

After a deathbed request from a young soldier she nursed, Bess eventually goes to his family. She finds his mother and step-father along with two brothers. Arthur’s dying words of ‘Peregrine didn’t do it, mother must be told‘ ought to be good news – but it’s clear that the family isn’t at all pleased.

After learning Peregrine is in an insane asylum, Bess is soon caught up in the seemingly unrelated death of a young maid when the boys were kids and a local soldier who is suffering from PTSD. She continues to persevere even as more people are murdered and her life is threatened.

I’ll definitely give the next book a try, but I intend to keep an eye out for the violence level.