Recommendations for the SMSA Crime & Mystery Book Club

This month we focused on books written or set between the two world wars. Writers were rediscovered and some were discarded. Read on to see our recommendations.


Birds of a Feather by Jacqueline Winspear
We have talked about Jacqueline Winspear before here, we we recommended her debut, Maisie Dobbs. Birds of a Feather is the second in the series and it continues to delve into how Maisie became a private investigator in the 1920s and how the past informs the actions of today. Well the today portrayed in the novel, not the present.

Jacqueline Winspear is an English writer and has won several awards for her Maisie Dobbs series.


The Man and The Queue and A Shilling for Candles by Josephine Tey
Josephine Tey is not new to our group, and two of her novels were recommended this month.  The Man and The Queue is the first Inspector Alan Grant novel and A Shilling for Candles is the second. They may feature the same character but they were written years apart. A Man and the Queue was published in 1929 and A Shilling for Candles was published in 1936.  The next one in the series came out in 1950, so she obviously liked to have some time between novels with this character. This was the only series she wrote as she wrote seven other novels (one is a biography) and two plays. There is quite a difference in how the books are written and her experience as a writer is definately more prevelant in the seond novel. 


Footsteps in the Dark by Georgette Heyer
Georgette Heyer is known for her historical romances set in the Regency era, however, she also wrote some crime fiction. Footsteps in the Dark is her first thriller, written in 1932, and it is set in a old house, The Priory.  Guests are charmed by the remote, ramshackle house as they stay during summer, however the frisson of a possible haunted house turns deadly when someone is murdered. It is a very light read and can be irritating and inplausible at times.  Only for the fans.


The White Cottage Mystery by Margery Allingham

This is Margery Allingham's second novel, but first crime fiction, that was originally written as a serial for a newspaper. It has been edited into a novel by her sister in 1928. It is a single location murder in the English countryside. The body of a man is found in The White Cottage and as Detective Chief Inspector Challenor and his son Jerry begin to investigate, they find that he was not well liked by the community. To explain any further would ruin the plot.

Margery Allingham went on to write the Albert Campion series (21 in total) and 11 standalone novels and short story collections. She wrote her first novel, The Blackkerchief Dick, was published when she was 19 year old in 1923, and it had occult and supernatural themes. She included the occult in many of her stories.


The Viaduct Murder by Ronald Knox
The Viaduct Murder was published in 1925 and is seen as a classic British crime story. It tells the story of four older gentlemen, a clergyman, a retired don, a former member of military intelligence and a vacationing golfer, stumble across a body below the railroad viaduct during a golf game. They set out to solve the murder.

According to the website Clerical Detectives and some other crime fiction, selected by Phillip Grosset, Ronald Knox was "Monsignor Ronald Arbuthnott Knox (1888-1957), was a well-known English Roman Catholic theologian, preacher, satirist and writer. Educated at Eton (which he liked very much. It probably really was the happiest time of his life) and Balliol College, Oxford, he had to give up being the Anglican chaplain at Trinity College, Oxford, when he converted to Roman Catholicism in 1917. He was (not very happily for him) sent by his bishop to teach Latin at St Edmund's College, Ware, then became RC chaplain at the University of Oxford (1928-1939), during which time he decided he would have to make ends meet by writing detective stories, five of the six featuring Miles Bredon. He also wrote a short story (Solved by Inspection) featuring Bredon"


For the Defence: Dr Thorndyke by R. Austin Freeman
This is a Dr Thorndyke novel that was published in 1934. It is a very plodding novel that starts with crime and has a unrealistic mistaken identity that is the central conceit. If you can swallow this set up, you will enjoy the novel, if you can't employ the Nancy Pearl rule of reading. Dr Thorndyke is a medical/legal forensic investigator, which is a combination that is a little ahead of its time.

Richard Austin Freeman was a doctor in the British colonial service until that late 1890s, when he returned to London. During World War One he served as a Captain in the Royal Medical Corps. He brings this knowledge to his books. He started writing the Thorndyke novels in 1907 and wrote one just about every year until his death in 1943.


The Santa Klaus Murder by Mavis Doriel Hay
The title does give the theme away, it is a yuletide murder mystery and it has been republished by the British Library Crime Classic series. The original came out in 1936 and it is English mansion crime mystery. The patriarch of the Melbury clan, Sir Oswald is found dead on Christmas Day dressed in a Santa Claus suit. The book gives you the different family members points of view before Colonel Halstock takes over as protagonist and investigates the murder.

Mavis Doriel Hay wrote three detective novels and thanks to the British Library Crime series all three are now available.


The Dorothy Parker Murder Case by George Baxt
This is the first in the Detective Jacob Singer novels that merge fact and fiction and focus on famous people as co-investigators with Jacob. This novel is set in 1926 and as you can tell from the title, involves writer and witticist Dorothy Parker and some of her cohorts from the Algonquin Roundtable, George Kaufman and Alexander Woollcott, help solve the death of a New York showgirl. Baxt manages to capture how you think these people would talk to each other and has some lovely witty comments. 

George Baxt wrote 13 novels in the Celebrity Murder series as well as two other series, one featuring a gay black protagonist (Pharoah Love) and the duo Plotkin and Van Larsen. He also wrote five standalone novels. Baxt has also written screenplays for TV and cinema. He died in 2003.


The Feathered Serpent and Mr J. G. Reeder Returns by Edgar Wallace
Two of Edgar Wallace's novels were recommended this month. One a Mr J. G. Reeder story and the other an Inspector Wade book.  

Edgar Wallace was a prolific writer with six crime series (which includes 36 novels), 83 crime novels, nine other novels, three poetry collections, 16 non-fiction novels, six screenplays, 48 short story collections and 25 plays. So, a few. As well as writing he was a war correspondent during the Boer War and stayed on in South Africa to write for local newspapers before moving back to the UK prior to World War One. After the war,  he continued to work as a journalist until the 1920s when he wrote full time. 


In the Train by Frank O'Connor
In The Train is a short story by Frank O'Connor, one of the great Irish writers from between the wars. For some background on O'Connor, you can read this article from The Guardian.  Many of his short stories are out of print, but can be found now and again in collections such as the Collection of Great Irish Detective Novels. 

In the Train was written in 1935 and it is about the people on a train heading back to their country town from the city after they have all participated in one way or another in the murder trial of a townsfolk. The story unravels the story from different perspectives.  


The Middle Temple Murder by J. S. Fletcher
Published in 1919, The Middle Temple Murder is of course set in the Middle Temple part of London, which is, according to wikipedia, "the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple, commonly known simply as Middle Temple, is one of the four Inns of Court exclusively entitled to call their members to the English Bar as barristers, the others being the Inner Temple, Gray's Inn and Lincoln's Inn. It is located in the wider Temple area of London, near the Royal Courts of Justice, and within the City of London." So it is safe to say that the murder is strongly connected to the legal system in England. This book not only searches for the killer but also the identity of the victim. 

Joseph Smith Fletcher was a British journalist and a crime writer from the early twentieth century.  He died in 1935. He was very prolific and wrote over 230 novels, both fiction and non-fiction.


Bring the Monkey by Miles Franklin
Australian author Miles Franklin is better known for her non-genre books, however, this is her take on a crime novel and it is a spoof of an English country house cozy crime. The story is complete with eccentric characters such as the narrator, her dazzling companion and a monkey.  Published in 1933, the book satirises the English upper class but not in a mean way. It is fun to read.

Stella Franklin wrote under the name Miles Franklin so that she would be published. Her novel My Brilliant Career is an Australian and feminist classic. The top Australian Literary Award is called the Miles Franklin Award.  


Thrones & Dominations by D. L. Sayers & Jill Paton Walsh
Dorothy Sayers has been written about before on this blog, and the continuation of her characters, Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, by Jill Paton Walsh have also been touched on before here. Thrones & Dominations is the first book that continues the series after Sayers death. Sayers started writing the novel in 1936 and Paton Walsh completed it in 1998. It focuses on Lord Peter and Lady Harriet settling into married life and they are dragged into the death of a young woman. This is mainly a Harriet Vane story as Lord Peter spends most of the plot off doing Foreign Office business in the lead up to World War 2.

Next month we will be reading crime novels that feature rock, paper or scissors. A wide range indeed.

Recommendation from the SMSA Crime & Mystery Book Club

Apologies in the delay in this month's recommendation.  The theme was colour - in the title, as a theme, anything.  As long as there was a colour involved.  Here are the recommendations:


 The Deep Blue Good-by by John D MacDonald

This is the first of 21 Travis McGee novels written between 1964 and 1984.  It introduces us to Trav as he likes to be called, a man of principle living on a houseboat he won in a poker game moored at Bahia Mar Marina, Fort Lauderdale, Florida. McGee is a salvage consultant, which is quite a new concept for 1964 and in this book he takes a job related to Junior Allen,  who smuggled a fortune home during the Second World War and hide it in the Florida Keys. A running theme in this series of books is that there is a price to pay for a successful recovery, whether it is emotional, physical or fiscal, and that is certainly the case in this novel.  What is great about this series is that Trav ages through the 21 books and the stories reflect the era in which they are being written.  

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Pitch Black by Alex Gray

Set in Glasgow, this is a Chief Inspector Lorimer novel published in 2009.  It is focused on the world's game at a club level.  The latest signing to Kelvin Football Club is found dead, and Lorimer delves into the the business and culture of Scottish football.

It does not matter if you like football or not, this is a well written tightly woven crime novel. 


 19 Red Roses by Torben Nielsen

19 Red Roses is a Danish crime novel written in 1973. It was made into a movie by the Danish in 1974 with Poul Reichhardt as Detective Ancher.  Ancher heads up a team that investigates a series of murders that happen over a few days that are seem to be unrelated.  The team start to connect the deaths and an understanding of a serial killer comes to the fore. Its popularity at the time led to it being translated into English in 1978.  It is now a rare book as it has not been reissued in a while.

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White Masks by Elias Khoury

Note a typical crime novel, White Masks is about a Lebanese citizen brutally murdered in a city torn apart by civil war. The central question of this book is - If everyone around you is dying in war, why should you care if someone is murdered for a reason not related to war? The narrator, a bored travel agent, stumbles through the novel unraveling the secrets, lies and corruptions of the early part of the war in Lebanon in the 1980s. 


False Colours by Miriam Borgenicht

Written in 1986, this is a crime novel of its era. High drama, scandal and big money, False Colours has hints of a Shirley Conran or Judith Krantz novel mixed with a crime novel, so much so you can feel the shiny synthetic fibers and the shoulder pads.  Under all that is an interesting story about sisters, their relationship and what you think you owe your family.


 The Black Monastery by Stav Sherez

Set on Palassosa, a small Greek island with historic ruins and an old monastery which was site of recurring cults through the history of the island.  There are three main characters in the novel - local police chief, Nikos, who is back on the island for the final days of his career and two English tourists, bestselling crime writer Kitty Carson and aspiring writer, Jason, who work together to find the truth of the island and its inhabitants. This is a good story and fun to read, with some great insight into communities and history repeating itself.    


The Attenbury Emeralds by Jill Paton Walsh

This is the third 'Lord Peter Wimsey' novel that Jill Paton Walsh has written, continuing the world and characters created by Dorothy L Slayers. A prolific author in her own right, she has written over 20 children books and four detective stories featuring part-time college nurse Imogen Quy.  According to Wikipedia she has published three novels about Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane: Thrones, Dominations (1998), a completion of Sayers' manuscript left unfinished at her death; A Presumption of Death (2002), based on the "Wimsey Papers", letters ostensibly written by various Wimseys and published in The Spectator during the Second World War; and The Attenbury Emeralds (2010), based on Lord Peter's "first case", briefly referred to in a number of Sayers' novels.


Fright by Cornell Woolrich

The website about the publishers of Hard Case Crime says it all - "A man. A woman. A kiss in the dark. That is how it begins. But before his nightmare ends, Prescott Marshall will learn that kisses and darkness can both hide evil intent—and that the worst darkness of all may be lurking inside him.

Lost for more than half a century and never before published under Cornell Woolrich’s real name, Fright is a breathtaking noir crime novel worthy of the writer who has been called "one of the giants of mystery fiction" and “the Hitchcock of the written word.”  This a a great noir novel set in the early 20th Century.  A bit before the usual era for noir, but with all the tropes.


 The Red Room by Nicci French

Nicci French writes psychological thrillers, or should I say that the English husband-and-wife team of Nicci Gerrard and Sean French who use the pseudonym of Nicci French write psychological thrillers. The Red Room was published in 2001 and it involves psychologist Kit Quinn who in the past was scarred after meeting a troubled man who had been arrested. In the present day, the police ask her to review a case that involves the same man. This starts Kit on the case.

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Dark Horse by Honey Brown

An Australian novel set in the Victorian High Country, Dark Horse is a story about perspective.  It is told from the point of view of Sarah Barnard who goes on a ride to the outskirts of her property to get away from her troubles for an afternoon.  Her troubles being a broken marriage and a her stables going bankrupt. She gets caught in a storm that washes out the way back home and she has to take refuge in a cabin. A cabin she has to share with another person caught in the storm, injured bushwalker Heath.  There is mistrust and a wariness between the characters, especially when it shifts perspective to Heath.  Who to trust, who is telling the truth, who is a good guy or gal.  You have to read to find out.

Next month the theme is a crime in a far flung place.