The Collini Case by Ferdinand von Schirach

Collini
The Collini Case
Ferdinand von Schirach
Originally Published 2011

The Collini Case opens with a moment of brutality as Fabrizio Collini walks into a hotel room where Hans Meyer, a man in his eighties, is staying and viciously kills him. He then reports himself to the Police and waits calmly in the lobby to be taken into custody. He freely admits that he was responsible and offers no explanation for why he has committed the crime.

His court-appointed lawyer, Casper Leinen, has only been qualified for two months and has never defended a case before. He is already stumped about how he will mount a defense when he learns that he has a personal connection to the case that causes him to doubt whether he should have taken the case in the first place.

While I have described The Collini Case as a legal thriller for the purposes of categorization on this blog, it is perhaps better described as having two clear themes that it develops. The first is the question of the role the public defender must play and their responsibility to a client, even if they do not like them. This is best summed up in an early conversation between Leinen and his adversary and mentor, the prosecution lawyer Professor Richard Mattinger, which is recalled at several points throughout the work.

The second theme concerns the nature of justice and its relationship to the law. My determination not to provide spoilers in my reviews prevents me from being more explicit about how that manifests in this case but as this book draws on aspects of the author’s own life that he referred to in interviews around the time this was released in the English-speaking market, a quick Google search should give you a little more context on what precisely is being discussed here.

Not that this will be much of a mystery for many readers. While these questions suggest that this book might be a mystery, the context of the crime makes motivation quite easy to infer within the first few chapters and so our focus remains fairly tightly on these two themes.

That tight thematic focus is reinforced by the structure of the book which only presents us with the steps in the trial that most clearly relate to the novel’s themes. The actual trial itself is confined to just a couple of chapters at the end of the novel and focuses almost entirely on a single cross examination of a witness. This is not ineffective but it may lead some to question whether it can really be called a mystery or a legal thriller at all.

As I finished reading the novel I was struck by a comparison to a work by John Grisham, The Confession. In that novel Grisham seems to be primarily writing to make a political point about the death penalty and aspects of the plot are developed in service of that theme. The Collini Case takes a similarly campaigning approach to its storytelling, especially in some of the comments made during that long cross examination sequence but its brevity and the tone of the ending keep this from feeling manipulative.

The downside of that brevity is that it does not allow space for supporting characters to develop. Arguably the key character of Johanna never quite makes her stamp on the narrative, being seemingly portrayed more as a representation of what Leinen is giving up for the sake of the case rather than a fully fleshed out character in her own right. This is particularly frustrating because her perspective on the case ought to be so interesting based on her own involvement and because her first interaction with Leinen after he accepts the case is one of the most powerful moments in the book.

In spite of some weak characterization, I did appreciate how well this book devotes itself to its themes and I did appreciate the spartan prose style the writer adopts. While the mystery content is lacking, it will interest readers with an interest in criminal justice systems and its themes lend themselves well to discussion. Though this didn’t entirely hit the spot for me,  I would certainly be curious to try another of von Schirach’s works in the future.

October in Review

Having started my blog part-way through a month, the end seems like a good day to pause and take a moment to introduce myself properly before posting a summary of what I have reviewed over the past few weeks and what I have in store for November.

My name is Aidan and I am originally from the UK though I now reside in Georgia in the US. These days it is much easier to acquire works from overseas so it shouldn’t make much of a difference in what I review but I mention it because it helps account for the occasional inconsistency in spelling as I’m at that stage where both sets of spellings and grammar rules look right to me and it can be anyone’s guess which I’ll use on any given day.

Book of SlaughterMy love of mystery fiction is an inheritance from both of my parents who are both crime fiction enthusiasts. My father, Graham, is a crime fiction writer published by Endeavour Press but you won’t see his work reviewed on this blog for the obvious reason that, however impartial I may feel I am being, I am probably not distant enough from the work to be completely free of bias. For what it’s worth though, I think The Outrageous Behaviour of Left-Handed Dwarves is a really entertaining thriller that builds to a powerful conclusion. For those with relatively long memories, that book was the runner up in the 2011 Crime Writers Association Debut Dagger award. The second title in that series, The Book of Slaughter and Forgetting, comes out this November.

My mother seemed to always have a Morse or Dalziel and Pascoe book in the glove compartment of her car while Saturday and Sunday evenings were inevitably spent watching television adaptations of crime novels or original series such as Jonathan Creek as a family.

Independently of my parents, I was reading The Three Investigators, The Secret Seven and the Hardy Boys in my formative years. Sadly when I became a teen I found that the then-fledgling young adult market did not really offer much for mystery readers and found myself drawn more to fantasy and science fiction. I wouldn’t really read much in the mystery fiction line until I was nearing my late-20s and I discovered the works of I. J. Parker and her medieval Japanese mystery novels which really reengaged my interest in the genre.

These days I continue to enjoy historical crime fiction as well as reprints of Golden Age puzzle fiction or books that mimic that style. While this blog will mostly be focused on reviewing materials I have not read before, I will find the time every now and then to write a little about the specific writers who inspired me to love the genre.

My scope for this blog will be pretty wide as I interpret the mystery genre fairly broadly to include thrillers and adventure stories. I expect I will occasionally mix in a television, movie or radio adaptation or talk about original mystery series in other formats.

Books Read In October

The Detective Wore Silk Drawers by Peter Lovesey – a case of second album blues. Lovesey has a really great grip on the Victorian sporting world but while pedestrianism seemed strange and fascinating, the world of bare-knuckle boxing is far less engaging and the crime is quite drab.

The Cheltenham Square Murder by John Bude – an entertaining read with the victim dispatched in a memorable fashion! The unusual nature of the crime forces the writer to drop in information early in the novel to play fair with the reader that does rather give things away though.

The Birdwatcher by William Shaw – a standalone crime novel and one of my favorite books of the year. The way the chapters are split between action in the past and the present works wonderfully and Shaw creates some wonderful characters. This is my Book of the Month.

The Problem of the Green Capsule by John Dickson Carr – a wonderfully plotted story that I read after being inspired by a post by The Puzzle Doctor (he uses its other title, The Black Spectacles) I read after listening to a few Dr. Fell audio dramas. I plan on digging more into Carr’s work in the months ahead.

Murder Gets A Degree by Theodora Wender – I’ll totally admit that I bought this for the tag line and the hope it would set the mood for a Halloween celebration. After a promising start it missed on the latter and it never quite decides what type of mystery it wants to be. It’s not a mystery why there wasn’t another one of these but I felt I got value for my $0.75.

Death of Anton by Alan Melville – Another book from the British Library Crime Classics range and it’s one of the best I’ve read. Witty, clever with a very memorable setting. The lighthearted tone may not be to everyone’s taste but I loved it.

A Few Right Thinking Men by Sulari Gentill – The hardest review I wrote this month because while I really enjoyed the book, I felt it missed the mark as a mystery novel which is, after all, the focus of this blog. Go check out what I wrote about it though because it is a really entertaining read. I am also very pleased that I managed to get through 800 words about an Australian crime novel with a wealthy playboy not wanting to live up to societal obligations set in the early 20th century without referencing Kerry Greenwood’s Miss Fisher.

The Month Ahead

What can you expect from me in the next month? I tend to make plans and change them on a whim, especially when I get inspired to try a book by another blogger, but near the top of my To Read pile at the moment is Death of a Busybody by George Bellairs, The Master Key by Masako Togawa and I am currently reading Say Nothing by Brad Parks. You can also expect I will be among the first in line to see the new Murder on the Orient Express when it comes out.

See you in November and thanks for checking out my blog!

A Few Right Thinking Men by Sulari Gentill

RightThinking
A Few Right Thinking Men
Sulari Gentill
Originally Published 2010
Rowland Sinclair #1
Followed by A Decline in Prophets

Rowland is the youngest son in one of Australia’s wealthiest families, the Sinclairs. He was too young to have fought in the Great War which took his eldest brother’s life and, as an adult, he has shrugged off any high society obligations to live and work as an artist with a group of friends that include a sculptress, a poet and a painter, to his remaining brother’s disapproval.

One family member who is much more positive about his choices is his namesake, Uncle Rowly, who lives a hedonistic lifestyle. When this uncle is found dead, having been brutally beaten by a gang of assailants, Rowland is frustrated at how little progress the Police are making in investigating the murder.

Meanwhile Australian society seems to be headed towards a crisis point. Tensions are growing between the socialists and conservatives as Rowland notices when a left-wing rally he attends to support a friend degenerates into a brawl and he notices his conservative older brother seems obsessed with talk of revolution and insurrection when he visits his home to sort out his uncle’s estate. Soon Rowland begins to wonder if his Uncle’s murder may have had political motivations and he undertakes an investigation of his own.

One of the reasons I love to read historical mystery fiction is the sense that you may learn something while you are reading. I knew very little about this period in Australian history and so the events described were entirely new to me. I found the setting to be quite fascinating and having done a little research since finishing reading, I was interested to see just how much of the novel draws on established history and impressed at how well Sulari Gentill weaves her narrative around those events.

Rowland is a natural sleuth and I was impressed by how well Gentill is able to use his unconventional background to drive the investigation. Like Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey, Rowland straddles two distinct social worlds and can live in each of them, albeit without ever truly being at home. The book is at its most successful when exploring the ways Rowland doesn’t quite fit with his family’s expectations or with the social group he chooses to associate with. He is a wonderful creation and I am certainly keen to read other stories featuring this character.

Gentill’s supporting characters are similarly well drawn and I appreciated that several of them were allowed to be ambiguous at points in the story. For instance, it is clear that Rowland feels something for Edna and Edna feels something for Rowland but it is not exactly a romance. Similarly, I appreciated that Wilfred is something more than just the disapproving older brother. While his relationship with Rowland is certainly frosty and awkward, Gentill gives them moments where you see hints of affection and takes the time to speculate on the reasons that these two men developed so differently and struggle to see the world in the same way.

As I turn to discuss the plot, I do have to acknowledge an issue that must inform my review on a mystery fiction blog. I think those expecting a puzzle mystery with multiple suspects and clues to consider may feel frustrated by how straightforward the solution to the murder turns out to be.

While the book is marketed as a mystery, an attentive reader will soon be able to infer much of what happened to Rowly simply by the choices the author makes in the developing the structure of their story. The writer does not offer enough alternative explanations and the only other reading of events is dismissed a little too effectively. In part that reflects just how tidy Gentill’s plotting is and how clearly the explanation makes sense.

The only question in relation to the murder that I think the reader will have by the midpoint of the novel is why Rowly was a target at all, and the revelation of the reason is unlikely to surprise the reader. In fact, some are likely to feel frustrated that Rowland considered that reason earlier in the narrative.

Structurally the book has more in common with a thriller or adventure story. Our hero identifies a possible suspect, puts themselves in danger to gather evidence and provide a resolution. The story even provides the hero with high stakes that gives their investigation national significance. This is still not quite a perfect fit but I think it is a better match for the expectations a reader may have.

To be clear, I did not feel that my enjoyment of this book suffered for the lack of a traditional detective story structure and I do think that there are a number of mysterious hooks to the narrative, even if they do not relate to the murder itself. I enjoyed discovering the broader historical context to this story, seeing how Rowland’s investigation would be managed and discovering more about his character and the people around him.

Assessed on its own merits, A Few Right Thinking Men is a really entertaining and interesting read. I would certainly encourage readers who enjoy historical novels to seek it out and I think readers who enjoy following an investigation will find much to enjoy here. Unfortunately the underdevelopment of the murder mystery keeps me from giving it a wider, more enthusiastic recommendation but I will certainly be seeking out a copy of the second title in the series.

Death of Anton by Alan Melville

death-of-anton-v2.indd
Death of Anton
Alan Melville
Originally Published 1936

I was impatient.

Death of Anton, a crime story originally published in 1936, was released as part of the British Library Crime Classics range in Britain over two years ago and it instantly caught my eye with its charming cover and intriguing description. I had waited patiently to be able to buy it but after two years I had given up hope that Poisoned Pen Press would be releasing it Stateside. I did however notice that it had been available for some time on Audible and decided that I was fed up of waiting. In fairly typical fashion I learned the next day that it would be released here this December.

As it happens I have no regrets. The book is a delight and one of the most enjoyable I have read in this range to date. For those who care about such things, I would add that the audiobook version is very well performed and that the narrator has an excellent handle on how to deliver the author’s witty prose.

Inspector Minto is a detective from Scotland Yard but when we first encounter him he is staying in a hotel in the hopes of dissuading his sister from marrying a man his brother deems unsuitable. Over breakfast he meets a clown who performs at a circus that is beginning a week’s run nearby and who, after hinting at some illegal intrigue taking place there, invites Minto (and guests) to a party he is giving after the evening’s performance.

Some time after dinner however as the party begins to die down the body of Anton, a tiger tamer, is found having seemingly been attacked by his own beasts. Minto becomes suspicious that this is not the simple accident it appears to be and begins his investigation.

I want to leave my description of the plot there because part of the fun of what follows is the way the story evolves as Minto tries to piece things together. There is one further development that I must reference however because it is one of the most distinctive elements of this story.

The brother of Mr. Minto is the priest at a nearby Catholic church and, following the murder, the person responsible goes to him and confesses to the murder. That details of that discussion cannot be divulged as they are under the confessional seal and so we have a character who is aware of the identity of the murderer and yet cannot knowingly provide any details to aid his brother’s investigation. This device works pretty well here as it means we have a character who can ultimately confirm the identity of the killer at the end of the story. It also provides an entertaining source of frustration for our detective at several points in the investigation.

Melville finds ways to frustrate his detective throughout the novel which I found quite delightful. Minto of Scotland Yard is often a competent detective and yet he is far from a brilliant one. At several points in the narrative he makes crucial mistakes or incorrect assumptions and yet he is also shown to be quite methodical and diligent in the way he approaches working on his leads and theories.

The circus setting is every bit as colorful and lively as you might expect and provides us with a collection of larger-than-life characters to suspect and enjoy. Their rivalries are another constant source of comedy throughout the book and some of their personalities are very amusingly observed.

Having focused on my comments on how amusing and colorful the book is, I think I should end by reflecting on the crime itself and its solution. Although the plot twists on several occasions and gives us some very memorable developments, the eventual solution is fairly straightforward and I found it to be the least interesting part of the book. Happily Melville figures out a way to work some laughter into the conclusion to keep his tone consistent while also providing some resolution but I suspect few readers will be wowed by Minto’s deductions.

Generally the solution to what is going on makes sense though I do believe there is a point in the story where Minto presumes something that he did not have evidence for at that moment. I didn’t feel cheated because I think that by the time that assumption becomes important the reader would have reached a similar conclusion by themselves and I don’t think it affects the outcome of the investigation at all and overall I would say Melville plays fair in the ways that matter.

Death of Anton is yet another triumph for one of my favorite ranges of mystery titles and is certainly an unusual and entertaining read. It is remarkable how effectively Melville makes a story that possesses several potentially dark moments feel light and whimsical in tone. It is Highly Recommended.

Availability Note: Death of Anton will be released in North America on December 5, 2017 and is already available on audio.

Murder Gets A Degree by Theodora Wender

Murder Gets A Degree
Murder Gets A Degree
Theodora Wender
Originally Published 1986
Glad Gold #2
Preceded by Knight Must Fall

Murder Gets A Degree was the second of two crime novels penned under a pseudonym by the classicist scholar Dorothea Wender and published in 1986. This book, like its predecessor Knight Must Fall, features the detective pairing of Turnbull College English professor Glad Gold and her Police Chief lover, Alden Chase.

Adah Storm is an aged and highly eccentric woman who lives with her twelve cats in a historic home on the edge of the Turnbull campus. Her odd outbursts and disheveled appearance have led some to speculate that she might be a witch.

When a town meeting is interrupted with the news that she has been burned to death in her home, Police Chief Alden Chase quickly comes up with a list of possible suspects that includes a religious zealot who lived next door, two men who were interested in acquiring her property and the visiting professor from France with a fascination in the works of H. P. Lovecraft. Knowing his girlfriend’s fondness for a good mystery, he asks Glad if she will help him informally interview some of those suspects…

I stumbled upon this book earlier this week in the mystery stacks of a branch of 2nd and Charles and, drawn in by the tag line on the front and the blurb’s promise of witch covens and ‘an archeologist who digs erotic encounters’, I felt it was worth a gamble for the price of just 75 cents. With Halloween just around the corner I closed the curtains, turned down the lights and settled in to see whether this title would be a trick or a treat. Unfortunately I would have to say that it is closer to the former than the latter.

The issue is chiefly one of tone. The book summons up plenty of Halloween atmosphere early on and plays around with some supernatural elements but it doesn’t seem to be clear on whether these elements are there to be comedic or something that should be treated seriously by the reader. This is a shame because that atmosphere gives the early parts of the book a lot of personality but it left me hoping that those themes would carry throughout the novel.

The other significant issue is the length of the book. The entire story has to unfold in just 150 pages which allows little time for diversions. One of the compromises made to accomplish this is we get to spend relatively little time with our group of suspects and some interviews happen without the reader being present. While I didn’t feel that was unfair as there was little information discovered in those sessions, it did artificially narrow the slate of suspects.

With regards our two heroes, I am less willing to leap to judgment as I have not read the book that introduces them. I am dubious whether reading how they got together would make me feel more invested in their relationship in the sequel and a little warmer towards them but I do have to acknowledge that the author clearly intended for this to build on their earlier efforts.

The secondary characters are more successful, if only because they make for a colorful group. Several are quite wonderfully over the top and I felt a little disappointed that they weren’t used more extensively throughout the narrative. My favorite of these was the Cthulu scholar who possesses some interesting beliefs about Lovecraft’s writings.

While they were entertaining, they were less impressive when viewed as a group of suspects. Too many of them had poor or close to inexplicable motives. I can’t go further without spoiling the identity of the murderer though I will say that the solution disappointed me in its simplicity, both in terms of its mechanics and lack of personality. I did appreciate the cleverness of one of the most important clues that leads to the denouement.

Still, in spite of these many faults and writing choices that I would take issue with, Murder Gets A Degree is a pretty entertaining book and an easy read. I doubt I will seek out Knight Must Fall off the back of this but if I ever spot a copy in a thrift store for less than a dollar I might be willing to take a chance on it…

Do you have a favorite mystery set at Halloween or Thanksgiving?

The Problem of the Green Capsule by John Dickson Carr

GreenCapsule
The Green Capsule (aka. The Black Spectacles)
John Dickson Carr
Originally Published 1939
Dr. Gideon Fell #10
Preceded by To Wake the Dead
Followed by The Problem of the Wire Cage

The Problem of the Green Capsule is the first book I have read by John Dickson Carr although it is not my first encounter with the character of Dr. Gideon Fell. Recently I had listened to the BBC Radio adaptations of several Carr stories in which the role of the famed amateur sleuth was played by Donald Sinden.

Going from adaptation to the original source material was an interesting experience and it’s usually one I try to avoid. Not because I believe that the book is always better but because once you hear or see a character performed it can be hard to see the character as originally envisaged. It was certainly hard not to hear Sinden’s voice in each of Fell’s pronouncements and interjections though I think that may just reflect that he was well cast in that role.

Having enjoyed the character I was keen to explore him further and so I set about finding one of the Carr stories and quickly settled on this one based on its rather striking premise. The crime here is quite audacious and certainly captures the imagination.

When the story begins there has already been a murder that apparently involved poison being placed in chocolates that were sold in a confectionery and tobacconists shop. No one can quite figure out how this was done yet Dr. Marcus Chesney has an idea and, after lecturing his family on how eyewitness accounts are unreliable, he decides to stage a theatrical production to prove his point.

Inevitably the fake murder ends up becoming the real thing. When the police arrive they soon realize that the only viable suspects were all in the audience and are able to give each other alibis. At about the halfway point in the narrative Dr. Fell is called in and begins to review the evidence to find the way the seemingly impossible murder was carried out.

Part of the reason I found this mystery so impressive is that it has such a small set of possible suspects to work with and the scenario is so well constructed that suspicion is able to fall equally of each of those characters.

The solution as to how this particular crime was worked is quite ingenious while playing quite fair with the reader. While I did not manage to identify every element of how the trick was worked, when the explanation is given I could see exactly where I went wrong in how I was looking at the case and how I fell for a red herring.

Though the characters are generally pretty solid, one aspect of the story that didn’t quite work for me was the police detective’s attraction to one of the characters involved in the murder. While I certainly don’t mind romantic elements in a story, I am not sure that their inclusion did much to advance a theme or complicate the investigation.

As for Fell himself, I found the character to be thoroughly entertaining. Carr holds back his entrance to the midpoint of the novel, essentially enabling him to seem all the more brilliant when he arrives and starts to deduce some of the mechanics of how the crime was achieved. He is a methodical and practical character and while he will occasionally make a short jump of reasoning, those moments generally feel credible.

Overall I think I picked a good story to start with and I certainly plan to continue dipping into these stories and some of Carr’s other works. Highly recommended.

Do you have any suggestions for which Carr works I should seek out next? I’m considering starting at the beginning with Hag’s Nook but I’m willing to be persuaded into trying something else…

The Birdwatcher by William Shaw

Birdwatcher
The Birdwatcher
William Shaw
Originally Published 2016
DS Alexandra Cupidi #0
Followed by Salt Lane

Police Sergeant William South lives in a remote part of the Kentish coast and has spent his professional career avoiding getting involved in anything approaching a murder investigation. When his friend and neighbor, a fellow birdwatcher, is found dead however he is not only roped into the efforts, the department ends up using his home as a base of operations.

Soon South realizes that he may not have known his friend quite as well as he had thought and he finds his own past, which he has kept secret, may be connected to the case.

The author, William Shaw, had previously penned one of my favorite crime novels of a few years ago – She’s Leaving Home. One of the things I liked most about that title was the way it managed to evoke a sense of time and place through character attitudes, dialogue and elements of the locations. The Birdwatcher is similarly impressive, conveying a strong sense of what it would be like to grow up in Northern Ireland during the Troubles in addition to being a brilliant piece of character study and a really gripping murder investigation.

Shaw has structured his book quite magnificently both thematically and in the development of its plot. Each chapter has two strands – a part told in the present day and a part which takes place during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. This allows Shaw to slowly reveal the events which have made South the man he is at the start of the story and allows us to draw some connections between events in the past and present.

This is a really smart approach and it means that we have several mysteries we can delve into. The most traditional of these is the question of who is responsible for the death of his friend and it is an interesting case in its own right. There are plenty of contradictions in his friend’s life that have to be sorted through and I enjoyed learning how the evidence we are given is stitched together later in the novel to explain what happened.

The second level of mystery is the question of precisely what William did in his past. Here things are arguably more straightforward as we are told pretty directly at the end of the first chapter the secret he is hiding. Still, we may question how that point was reached and I feel we learn a lot about how the adult South was formed in these passages.

The third mystery relates to the adult South’s interpersonal relationship with a character he encounters early in the novel, DS Alexandra Cupidi. She is a new arrival from the city and comes with her own emotional and professional baggage.

At this point I should mention that while The Birdwatcher is intended to be a standalone novel, Shaw is penning a new series in which she will be the main character. While she is a hugely important part of this book, this is not her story. At key junctions in the narrative we always follow South’s story and he remains in the dark about what Cupidi is thinking. She is a striking creation in her own right and I am really looking forward to getting to read Salt Lane next year.

There are of course plenty of other little mysteries scattered throughout the text but the reason I highlight these three main ones is that I appreciate that Shaw really integrates his characters into his narrative. We can enjoy the novel as a straightforward detective procedural but each new development either reveals something about our main characters, causes shifts in their relationships or enhances the broader themes of the work.

The result is one of my favorite books in years from a writer who has fast become a favorite author. I can’t wait to see what he has in store for us next but, in the meantime, The Birdwatcher is highly recommended.

Update: I selected The Birdwatcher as my Book of the Month for October 2017.

The Cheltenham Square Murder by John Bude

Cheltenham
The Cheltenham Square Murder
John Bude
Originally Published: 1937
Superintendent Meredith #3
Preceded by The Sussex Downs Murder

I suspect that many mystery fans have a favorite range or publisher whose output they tend to be drawn to. For me it’s the British Library Crime Classics range which is published in the United States by Poisoned Pen Press which reprints detective fiction from crime fiction’s Golden Age.

I have not only discovered a number of great reads through this range, I can also credit the books for causing me to go beyond Christie and Sayers and to see that crime fiction from this period is far more diverse than I had realized.

Unfortunately The Cheltenham Square Murder does not sit among the best of their output although it is quite a solid, entertaining read. It does contain a rather wonderful story hook, improbable though it is, which does at least make it quite a memorable murder even if its investigation disappoints.

The far-fetched concept of the story is that the murder victim lives in a cul-de-sac where several of the residents are all expert archers. One evening the victim is sitting in an armchair in front of a window having tea when he is killed with an arrow to the back of the head. The shot would have been an exceptionally hard one yet because so many of the residents were familiar with a bow there are a number of suspects on hand.

Meanwhile, and here we hit remarkable coincidence number two, our series sleuth (Inspector Meredith) just happens to be staying on holiday in a house on the street with a crime writer friend and he cannot resist assisting with the investigation.

In the early stages of the novel I found the investigation to be quite interesting, not least because of the unusual method of dispatch. There is a little discussion about flight trajectories and arrow types which lead to questions about precisely where the shot could have been fired from and there is a strong focus on the different suspects movements around the neighborhood.

The second half of the novel began to flag for me and I became frustrated that there were some parts of the narrative that struck me as a little flabby. For instance, there is one plot point in particular early in the story that the writer devotes a fair amount of time to that leads absolutely nowhere at all. There are other elements that are more substantive but which advance the investigation so quickly that the detective (or the reader) didn’t seem to earn the revelations that come from them.

Given that Meredith is quite a plodding sort of detective and the way the narrative slows in the final eighty pages, there is a very good chance that the reader will overtake him at points in the story and will beat him to solving the crime. Usually when I do this I feel a huge sense of accomplishment but here I felt a little underwhelmed.

There are several clues that so directly point to the identity of the suspect that the question only becomes one of how the crime was managed. While the means is at least rather clever and certainly unique, the reader comes to elements of it by default. Had the pacing of the conclusion been a little faster this may have been less apparent but I felt the solution required little ingenuity on the part of the reader – just a diligence and orderly removal of other possibilities.

If the mechanics of the investigation disappoint, the reader can at least enjoy the cast of characters that Bude creates for his story. The suspects are all quite unique and several of them have some interesting motives and behaviors that help bring them to life. Sadly, our investigator, Meredith, is much less of a personality and I found him of relatively little interest though it was interesting to see his investigation floundering at points as he hits several dead ends.

So, how did I feel about The Cheltenham Square Murder? I think it has some flashes of personality but it ends up being undone by the very unique concept that attracted me to it in the first place. When a murder requires a large amount of skill to be worked, it requires the reader to suspend a considerable amount of disbelief to accept that there might have been a broad array of suspects. As for how it is done, we have to have the means offered to us in advance so that the ending feels fair but the moment that means is introduced it stands out so much that it becomes clear that was how it was achieved.

This is a shame because there certainly were aspects of this book I enjoyed a lot and I found much of the book quite readable and entertaining. While I am open to reading some other works by Bude in the future, it will not be to spend more time with Meredith but in the hopes of seeing some other similarly creative scenarios.

Do you have a recommendation for another book in the Meredith series I might enjoy more?

The Detective Wore Silk Drawers by Peter Lovesey

The Detective Wore Silk Drawers
Peter Lovesey
Originally Published 1970
Sergeant Cribb #2
Preceded by Wobble to Death
Followed by Abracadaver

A few years ago Soho Crime reissued the Cribb stories with some rather smart new cover designs. While I was familiar with the character from the television series, I had never really dipped into the books that had inspired them and so I decided to pick up the first few titles in the series.

The Detective Wore Silk Drawers is the second of the Sergeant Cribb stories and while it possesses some charms of its own, it never gripped my imagination the way that Wobble to Death did. In part that reflects that this story’s setting and sporting theme, bare-knuckle boxing, is a little less strange and a little more familiar to us. I think the book also disappointed me a little in that it is structured as more of a thriller than a mystery.

The story begins with the discovery of a headless corpse in the Thames. We soon learn that the body shows signs of having engaged in bare-knuckle fighting and Cribb decides to send a man undercover to try to identify the corpse and find the culprit.

The man that Cribb recruits is the somewhat familiarly-named Henry Jago. Given that I am a huge Doctor Who fan, this choice of name became quite distracting to me although Lovesey is absolutely not to blame for this as this book came out quite a few years before the Talons of Weng-Chiang serial was made. For what it’s worth the character was quite charming and while it was strange to see so much of the narrative given over to a brand new character, I enjoyed spending time in his company even though it comes at Cribb and Thackeray’s expense.

Unfortunately I was less interested in the crime at the heart of this story. While the house that Jago finds himself staying in while undercover is admittedly quite strange and curious, the case that he investigates offered few diversions or unexpected developments and there is very little reasoning to be done by the reader.

While The Detective Wore Silk Drawers is not a bad book, it falls short of the high standard established by the first story. Fans of Victorian or sporting mysteries may find something to enjoy here, though I cannot recommend it more broadly.