Reviewed by Harriet
Vintage crime fiction is enjoying a tremendous renaissance at the moment, and the British Library Crime Classics series certainly has a good deal to do with it. As well as a number of long out-of-print novels, several of which have been reviewed on Shiny, there have been two short story collections so far. The first was Capital Crimes: London Mysteries (see review here) and here we have the second one which, as the subtitle suggests, features crimes committed away from home. So we not only have Cornwall and Cumberland, Yorkshire and the holiday resorts of England’s south coast, but also Switzerland, Denmark, France and Germany. Whether criminals (or detectives) behave differently when they’re on holiday is a moot point, but the locations certainly add interest and variety to these highly readable stories.
There are a great many treats in store here. The volume opens, as did the last one, with a story by Arthur Conan Doyle. ‘The Adventure of the Devil’s Foot’ features Holmes and Watson, who find themselves in a small cottage on the furthest end of the Cornish peninsular, attempting to solves an apparently inexplicable case. A man has come home to find a horrific scene inside his house:
His two brothers and his sister were seated round the table exactly as he had left them, the cards still spread in front of them and the candles burned down to their sockets. The sister lay back stone-dead in her chair, while the two brothers sat on either side, laughing, shouting and singing, the senses stricken clean out of them. All three of them, the woman and the two demented men, retained upon their faces an expression of the utmost horror – a convulsion of terror that was dreadful to look upon.
Needless to say there is no possible solution, and needless to say Holmes finds one anyway, though its not giving too much away to tell you that the perpetrator is allowed to escape scot-free. Curiously, the same thing happens in several of the other stories too, which must be a coincidence though rather an interesting one.
Although the stories themselves are not dated (I really wish they were!) it’s clear from the dates of the authors that their publication ranges throughout the twentieth century, with the last one in the volume being by Michael Gilbert, who died in 2006. Gilbert was a highly celebrated novelist and his story, ‘Cousin Once Removed’, is a delightful piece describing a cunning plot which goes badly wrong, leaving the perpetrator seriously discomforted.
There’s quite a bit of wit dotted throughout the book, with perhaps the best example being a very entertaining story by Helen Simpson entitled ‘A Posteriori’, during the course of which a very prim English spinster is forced to reveal her behind to the French police. Simpson, a friend of Dorothy Sayers and a contributor of dialogue to some of Hitchcock’s films, was clearly a superb writer who sadly died young. There’s also some brilliant detection, of course – I particularly liked ‘A Mystery of the Sand-Hills’ by R. Austin Freeman, in which his superbly skilled detective Dr John Thorndyke solves a bizarre mystery involving an abandoned pile of clothing and some strange footprints on a beach by means of some meticulous studying of tiny clues.
Some of the authors’ names will be familiar, especially to lovers of Golden Age crime fiction, but there are some great discoveries too, including one Gerald Findler, about whom nothing is known beyond the fact that he write two short crime stories. The one that’s included here is called ‘The House of Screams’ and appears as if it’s going to be a tale of the supernatural, but in the end turns out to have a rational, if ingenious, explanation – interestingly enough, one that is not wholly dissimilar to the solution of the Conan Doyle story at the beginning. A writer who is much better known, Anthony Berkeley, is here represented by a story, ‘Razor’s Edge’, which has only been published once before, in 1942, when it appeared in an edition of only 93 copies.
So there really is something for everyone here, and with an introduction and notes about the authors by Martin Edwards, this is a volume to treasure and enjoy – why not take it on holiday yourself?
Harriet is one of the editors of Shiny New Books.
Martin Edwards answers questions about his latest ventures in BookBuzz here.
Martin Edwards, ed., Resorting to Murder: Holiday Mysteries (British Library: London, 2015). 978-0712357487, 317pp., paperback.
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