Capital Crimes, edited by Martin Edwards

This collection was originally published in 2015.

Capital Crimes is an eclectic collection of London-based crime stories, blending the familiar with the unexpected in a way that reflects the personality of the city. Alongside classics by Margery Allingham, Anthony Berkeley and Thomas Burke are excellent and unusual stories by authors who are far less well known. The stories give a flavour of how writers have tackled crime in London over the span of more than half a century. Their contributions range from an early serial-killer thriller set on the London Underground and horrific vignettes to cerebral whodunits. What they have in common is an atmospheric London setting, and enduring value as entertainment. 

I was a late convert to the mystery short story. Read some of my earliest posts on this blog and you’ll see that I express a certain wariness about this form of mystery story, believing that the short length wouldn’t allow for the sort of complex case that would interest me.

The British Library mystery anthologies were a large part of the reason that my opinions on the form began to change. I started reading them just to experience a wide range of authors but was pleasantly surprised by how rich and interesting some of the tales were.

One of the things I like most about the range is the idea of grouping stories around a common theme. Other collections have been themed on topics like manor house murders, railway mysteries or science-driven cases. It can be interesting to see the different directions and approaches writers would take on a common theme or element, brilliantly illustrating their style and personality as a writer.

Capital Crimes is a collection that contains some very strong mystery stories, some from familiar names but several from writers who were new to me. I will share some thoughts on each story in a moment but talking about them as a group, I felt that the quality was pretty consistently high. Where I think the collection falls down is in its representation of its theme – while the stories here happen in London, I rarely felt that the stories delivered the sort of strong sense of place that I expected.

My expectations had been for something along the line of Akashic’s city-based Noir series (to be clear, this was an expectation for approach – not for tone). Stories you read and notice aspects of the city in with stories set in very distinctive places or communities. The difference, of course, is that those stories tend to be written specifically for that collection with that sense of place in mind – I imagine that finding suitable stories for this collection must have been much harder.

While the stories rarely give a sense of a specific place, they tend to be better at evoking a sense of a metropolis. Stories draw upon the anonymity of the city and the mass of people that live and work there. They frequently reflect the fears people must have felt about living in these relatively new urban spaces, particularly of being alone even when you are surrounded by millions of people.

The most effective stories in this collection for me were the ones that explored those ideas. Hugh Walpole’s The Silver Mask is fantastically sinister and unsettling and is brilliantly complemented by E. M. Delafield’s They Don’t Wear Labels. John Oxenham’s A Mystery of the Underground explores the widespread panic caused by a series of motiveless murders on mass transit while H. C. Bailey’s The Little House may not be a puzzle mystery, but it a very effective and unsettling piece of writing.

There are relatively few misses in the collection. J. S. Fletcher’s The Magician of Cannon Street felt too fantastical, as did Richard Marsh’s The Finchley Puzzle, while Conan Doyle’s The Case of Lady Sannox, though effective, reads like a horror story. Even these stories though are perfectly readable though it is a little unfortunate that they all fall near the start of the collection.

The stories offer a good mix of approaches and styles and while I think other volumes offered a clearer representation of their theme, I think most who pick up Capital Crimes will find plenty here to enjoy. Thoughts on the individual stories follow after the page break!


Constable Guard Thyself! by Henry Wade

Originally published in 1935
Inspector Poole #5
Preceded by Mist on the Saltings
Followed by The High Sheriff

Two threats from a newly released convict – a poacher framed on a murder charge – put Captain Scole, Chief Constable of Brodshire, on his guard. Special men are assigned to protect him. But four days later, Captain Scole is found shot through the head at his desk in Police Headquarters.

A full week later, young Inspector Poole of Scotland Yard is called in to follow a cold trail in the face of open hostility from the local police. And the further he explores the murder, the more baffling it becomes.

Could Scole’s First World War past be catching up with him – or something much closer to home? 

Henry Wade is one of my favorite writers of the Golden Age so I cannot really explain why it has been well over a year since I last read one of his books. I had been intending to get back to him again for the past few months but got an extra little push when I noticed several of his books listed in Brian Skupin’s Locked Room Murders Supplement. After reading the descriptions of the impossibilities this seemed like the one that intrigued me most based on the apparent audacity of the crime committed.

That crime is the murder of a Chief Constable within his office in the police station. Junior officers are present in the corridor outside when they hear shots and dash inside. There they find Scole dead having been shot in the forehead, yet there is no sign of the murderer in the room. They could not have escaped through the only door without passing the officers, nor is it easy to see how they could have got in or out through the window given the office is on the first floor and there are no signs of anyone having touched the old drainpipe which seems to be the only thing an intruder could grip onto.

Suspicion quickly falls on Albert Hinde, a recently released prisoner who had made several threats of violence to Scole including once in person. Years earlier Scole had been responsible for sending Hinde to prison causing considerable resentment. What doesn’t make sense though is why Hinde waited to commit murder when he had already had the opportunity and how could he have got through the police station when officers had been placed on alert to look out for him.

Scole’s subordinates are keen to get to work and find his killer and initially resist calls to summon assistance from the Yard but when they are unable to track down Hinde and with their investigation stalled they reluctantly recognize that they need help. Inspector Poole is dispatched and decides to take the case back to the beginning to look at all their base assumptions, taking no fact for granted.

While this book does contain a solid impossible crime story, it is important to stress that it is first and foremost a police procedural. What this means is that we have lots of care taken to establish the critical points of the investigation, checking over important details, carefully comparing pieces of information to make sure that they fit together and ruling out other lines of inquiry. This type of storytelling will appeal to those who like to focus on the details of the investigation but may feel a little slow for those seeking action or big reveals. I enjoyed the story but I would accept that it is quite deliberate in its pacing, although I found the sensation of circling ever tighter around the killer to be quite compelling.

I have now read several stories featuring Inspector Poole and I am increasingly coming to appreciate him as a sleuth. He is a detective of the Inspector French school, albeit a little more fallible in his reasoning. At several points in this story we see him make well-reasoned but incorrect guesses about what might have happened, only to see his theories crumble around him. That fallibility only adds to the book’s strong sense of realism and makes me like him all the more.

Wade not only draws Poole well but also creates a convincing group of policemen to fill the station. While there is not a lot of diversity in the conceptions of those characters, I think each is portrayed quite thoughtfully and credibly. Their squabbles and resentments all feel well observed and I had little difficulty in believing that the reactions of those characters were realistic. Similarly those characters beyond the police station are also portrayed thoughtfully and manage to make significant impact, even when they only appear in a single sequence or phase of the novel.

I was also impressed by the rich themes Wade works into this book, some of which feel quite heavy. While I think this book works simply as a really engaging puzzle story, I think the author thoughtfully raises and tackles a number of challenging topics, some of which feel quite modern.

Reading this I was struck by the thought that this book must have been in the works at about the time a national debate was taking place around the future of policing. In 1932 Lord Trenchard, the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner, had presented his white paper with recommendations to reform policing and in the same year that this book was published the Police College at Hendon accepted its first cohort of trainees. There was some quite strong reaction to these reforms at the time however, prompting some heated debate about the future of policing.

Given the themes of this novel, which discusses issues concerning police recruitment and heirarchies, the tension between the civilian and military mindsets of policing and issues of malpractice, I do wonder if Wade was intending this work to be supportive of the need to professionalize and reform the police. It does seem clear that Wade places much of the blame for the events of this story on Scole and his uncompromising military mindset.

I do continue to find Wade’s discussion of social and political issues to be quite fascinating, in large part because they seem so at odds with the way I often see them described. Typically Wade is portrayed as a conservative, establishment figure which certainly matches his own social background and yet I continue to find his works to offer support for a more progressive view of justice. This book is certainly no exception, discussing the way excessive punishment and a lack of support can lead to greater odds of the individual returning to a life of crime or violence. Add in the discussion of police malpractice and this work does feel quite progressive for its era and at odds with the general picture so often painted of Wade (four years later he wrote an even more pointed work addressing the causes of recidivism, Released for Death, which I have previously reviewed on this blog).

Having discussed the book as a procedural, I do want to take a moment to address the impossible crime elements of the story. Those were after all the reason I was inspired to pick up this Wade.

While I stand by my earlier comment that this book is first and foremost a procedural, the impossible element of the story is quite pleasing and handled pretty well. The physical circumstances of the crime scene are explained well, as is the forensic evidence left at the scene. Though the investigation does hit several dead ends early on, I enjoyed following Poole as he tried to reason through the difference ways someone might have gained access, only to stumble when he realized why that plan did not work. We do drift away from the circumstances of the crime scene in the middle of the novel but I had confidence that there would be a thorough explanation of what happened later on and I was not disappointed.

That explanation may not be particularly dramatic or imaginative but I think it is detailed and convincing. Unfortunately I have to concur with Martin Edwards and J. F. Norris (see his review linked below) that Wade is a little heavy-handed in some of the clues he drops to the murderer’s identity at the start of the novel. I suspect he was assuming that readers would read this as an inverted-style story (or else ROT13: Abg pbafvqre n cbyvprzna orpnhfr bs n gehfg va nhgubevgl) and fail to register their significance. Unfortunately though it did stand out just a little too much for me. Still, even if you recognize the killer it is still satisfying to piece the other parts of this puzzle together.

Overall I was really pleased I made the choice to pick this book for my return to Wade. While its slow and methodical pacing will not suit every reader, the author crafted an interesting scenario with an equally interesting conclusion.

The Verdict: A thoroughly interesting (and thorough) procedural complete with a compelling impossible murder situation.

Second Opinions

J. F. Norris at Pretty Sinister Books also enjoyed this, finding it “fascinating on all levels”. He does raise a good point about the need for a character directory!

Martin Edwards at Do You Write Under Your Own Name describes it as ‘an interesting portrait of Police work’ though he notes that a couple of early clues give the murderer’s identity away too easily.

Nick at The Grandest Game in the World also praises the book, saying it has all of Wade’s merits.

Here Comes The Copper by Henry Wade

This collection was originally published 1938.
It contains stories first published between May 1935 and June 1938 featuring PC John Bragg.

PC John Bragg is young and full of ambition, and with his eye on making Superintendent one day, he squares up to each case that comes his way as an opportunity to show himself brave, reliable and a good detective. In town and country, at scenes of murder, robbery, fraud, abduction, military and industrial spying and arson, PC John Bragg’s character grows as his mettle is tested.

From dealing with artists’ models in a murder case, to ensuring a bejewelled, high-spirited American heiress doesn’t attract the wrong sort of attention, to protecting the pay destined for a staff of quarrymen, PC Bragg has his work cut out for him.

Henry Wade has been one of my favorite authors to return to since starting this blog and I hold several of his novels in very high regard (especially his excellent inverted story Heir Presumptive). Other than an entry in a British Library Crime Classics collection, this is my first experience reading his short stories.

Unfortunately I was less impressed than I had hoped to be.

These stories, each of which feature Police Constable Bragg as he strives to make a name for himself and earn promotion up the ranks, are first and foremost procedural adventures. The focus for the most part in this collection is not on the deductive process but rather his bravery and perseverance working on often quite straightforward cases.

Many cases are simply dull and lacking in a creative spark or the sorts of memorable elements to make them stand out but there are a few exceptions. The first story, These Artists, features a rather macabre idea to good effect. Steam Coal is even better, offering a genuine puzzle to the reader that I think has a clever solution.

The best two stories though, in my opinion, are The Little Sportsman and Lodgers, both of which are puzzles and require some thought on the part of the reader. I was engaged by both and appreciated that each took their plots in rather unexpected directions at times.

Sadly these stories are the exceptions in an otherwise rather pedestrian collection of tales. As much as I have enjoyed the Wade novels I have read to date, this fell a long way short of those experience.

There is only one other Wade short story collection – the earlier Policeman’s Lot – and after this I am a little less excited to read it.

The Verdict: A fairly unremarkable collection of procedural short stories. There are a few strong entries but, the collection as a whole is pretty bland.

Thoughts on the individual stories follow:

Released for Death by Henry Wade

Originally Published 1937

Two men in Hadestone Prison are approaching the end of their sentences for burglary and assault. James Carson is well educated but brutal; Toddy Shaw is a cheerful cockney who considers burglary a sport. Trouble flares in the chapel, and both Shaw and Carson are involved. Eventually both men are released, but old hatreds fester.

Toddy gets work on leaving prison, wanting to do right by his wife and family. Carson, released later, soon comes looking for Toddy.

Then a nightwatchman at a bank is murdered – a former prison guard at Hadestone – and Chief Inspector Holby will need to prove himself a match for whatever dark mind is on the loose . . .

Released for Death is the fifth novel I have read by Henry Wade who has fast become one of my favorite writers from the Golden Age. Part of the attraction for me is that he is one of the principal practitioners of the inverted mystery novel, the type of novel in which the reader knows the guilty party’s identity and has to figure out some other detail of the crime or how they will be caught.

Whether Released for Death constitutes an inverted mystery is perhaps a little debatable. Certainly it is not particularly mysterious as while the guilty party’s identity and reasoning are pretty clear in spite of the author not explicitly stating them until the end of the novel. Nor do we ever share the criminal’s perspective of events. I would suggest though that whether or not it fits the definition, it has enough of the same features to have similar appeal.

The story is split into two with the first half following the perspective of Toddy Shaw who is midway through a prison sentence for assault on a security guard during a robbery. He is working with a pot of boiling paste when another prisoner, James Carson, lunges at one of the guards knocking the hot liquid across Toddy’s face. Instinctively Toddy fights back and while he is pretty badly beaten he inadvertently stops a full-scale riot from breaking out.

Toddy refuses to implicate Carson in the riot but the man swears vengeance against him anyway which places the wardens in the difficult position of deciding what to do about Toddy. Though they have differing views about whether Toddy intended heroism or whether it was luck that his actions stopped the riot, the decision is made to apply to the Home Secretary for an early release which he receives. He returns home to his family and sets about trying to go straight but in spite of his best intentions his situation takes a turn for the worse and he finds he needs money quickly, leading him back down a dark path…

The second half of the novel plays out from the perspectives of the police who are investigating a brutal murder and the kindly, if somewhat naive, prison clergyman who has taken an interest in Toddy’s situation. While we do not have an exact knowledge of how a crime was committed we are aware of his innocence in the matter and the reason why he is suspected. We get to see how both the prosecution and defense view the case and follow the latter’s efforts as they try to find evidence that will prove his innocence.

One complication in the case is that Toddy refuses to give any evidence that will point directly at the guilty party on a point of honor. This creates an interesting problem for one character where they learn who is responsible but will not be able to prove it unless they can find their own proof of that person’s guilt.

It felt clear to me reading this that while Wade is writing a crime story he is also attempting to discuss social issues concerning conditions in prison, the power dynamics within the justice system and the forces leading to recidivism once a prisoner is released. It is a sympathetic portrayal that feels well measured. Toddy’s plight is not the result of one unscrupulous person manipulating a system or any personal failings but rather it reflects the realities of how difficult it can be to find steady work having a police record and how someone can fall into trouble through no direct fault of their own.

Curtis Evans in his wonderful book about Wade, The Spectrum of English Murder, suggests that while well-intentioned, the author’s tone at times appears a little condescending. I agree with Curtis that there are moments at which this clearly does come through though I appreciate that he was trying to write sympathetically about a criminal character at all. Wade attempts to write realistically gritty dialogue for Toddy and while I think he overdoes some of the “Cor!” moments a little, I think he writes with empathy and, for the most part, avoids drifting into sentimentality.

Wade explores these issues quite effectively but it is probably worth noting that he does not offer a prescription for making the system function better. Indeed the interventions of some caring authority figures acting on their own initiative may suggest that he saw the actions of caring individuals to be a stronger remedy to these problems than any specific reform. Alternatively he may have intended to illustrate the issue in the generating discussion.

Unfortunately while the first half of the novel is quite a compelling, if slow-moving, piece of character exploration the second half seems to drift. With no mystery for the reader to solve about how the crime was worked or the motivation the only question remaining is how the guilty party will be brought to justice. Wade depicts the details of police procedure very effectively but there are no real surprises for the reader and while we are made aware of what failure to find evidence would mean for Toddy, I felt the decision to adopt multiple perspectives reduced the sense of urgency and tension in this portion of the book.

Though I feel that Released for Death runs out of steam, I do think that the second half of the novel does have a few strong moments. One of my favorites relates to an attempt by Toddy’s lawyers to find a witness and get her to give a statement. Wade pitches this perfectly, building up to the moment of the interview very well and introduces some practical, realistic procedural issues that take that scene in an unexpected and interesting direction.

The problem is that moments like that one stand out because they are the exception. From the midpoint of the novel it feels pretty clear how things will be resolved and Wade offers little to surprise his readers. Instead the piece relies on the interest generated by its characters to keep readers engaged. The first half works because Toddy is an interesting and ultimately quite likeable protagonist but the second half struggles to find a character as likeable for us to care about or enjoy spending time with.

New Graves at Great Norne by Henry Wade

Originally Published 1947

The even tenor of life in the little market town is disturbed at first slightly by the death of one of its best-known citizens, and then, like the surface of a pond shattered by a rising wind, increasingly as one ghastly event follows another. Terror grows because the townsfolk in their normal lives are unaccustomed to violence and less able to face the horror of it.

It is in this atmosphere that Superintendent Keller, Inspector Hendell, and Detective-Inspector Joss have to work, and into which are called Chief Inspector Myrtle and Detective-Sergeant Platt of Scotland Yard; and the reader’s attention is focused on their patient unravelling of a network of conflicted clues.

Earlier this year I discovered Henry Wade’s inverted mystery novels and, as I am prone to do when I get rather excited, went out and bought pretty much every one of his novels in ebook format expecting I would power through them. I am not entirely sure why I didn’t though I suspect that their longer page counts have been a deterrent and I find that owning a book often seems to lead to me putting it off until after I get through that stack of library books.

New Graves at Great Norne is not an inverted mystery but rather it is an example of the police procedural style of mystery that Wade is probably best remembered for. It is set in a small East Anglian port community which experiences several tragic deaths in quick succession. None of the deaths are inexplicable in themselves and, indeed, one of the striking features of the case is that each death seems to have some explanation. Yet the sheer number of deaths occurring in quite a short time frame is suspicious.

The first death appears to have been a careless accident as the vicar is found having apparently hit his head on the quay. The man who discovers his body notes a strange smell of liquor on his breath and a broken whiskey bottle in his pocket but those who knew him best were certain he never drank spirits.

The second death occurs some time later and this time the victim is a retired colonel who appears to have shot himself in his study. Once again, those who knew him best feel this is out of character given his social and religious attitudes and suspicion soon falls on his son-in-law, a spendthrift who was resented by the colonel for not working a steady job or having a reliable living of his own.

The third comes in the form of a house fire where the victim had apparently drunk himself into a stupor before knocking over a light and setting the room ablaze. This is apparently more believable given the victim was known to be an alcoholic and yet the police are skeptical that such an accident could have happened. And the killing does end there.

There are no obvious ties between the first three men killed beyond the colonel’s involvement in the running of the church and each death occurred in a different way and yet Inspector Myrtle becomes increasingly sure that not only were these not accidents but that there must be some connection between them.

The most important character in New Graves at Great Norne is not the sleuth or his victims but the town itself which feels utterly credible. Violent crime is next to unknown in the area and yet life ticks on for these characters. Few of the townsfolk make the connections between the different deaths their community has experienced and by the time of the fire the vicar’s death seems almost forgotten.

Wade makes sure to depict the various social groups and classes that comprise that community from the manual laborers and tradesmen to the squire and I think he does them justice. Each group are presented sympathetically and on those few occasions where Wade offers sharp or satirical commentary it is almost always directed at the characters who belong to the gentry.

The sleuth, Inspector Myrtle, is competent and credible and while the character is not particularly dynamic, Wade does inject some added interest by creating a gentle rivalry between the local police who have formed their own detective unit and Scotland Yard. There are no great imaginative leaps of reasoning as Myrtle embodies the model of slow and steady police work but he is competent and level-headed. You might argue that he is given a little too much information by a character later in the novel, helping him solve the case, but I think he does a good job of understanding the links between each of the characters and building up our knowledge of their movements and possible motivations.

The novel’s relatively high body count turns out to be something of a double-edged sword, certainly adding to the excitement and tension as we near the conclusion and yet the choice to present multiple victims with few links to each other inherently serves to limit our suspect pool. I am not saying that the identity of the killer is easy to guess – in fact I would say Wade hides it very effectively – but there are simply not many characters left standing near the end and few of those that are can be called really developed.

As I referenced earlier, there is an argument that might be made to suggest that Myrtle really is not responsible for solving this mystery. The reason the reader may feel this way is that he is in effect given the explanation of the motive and likely killer in conversation toward the end of the novel but that information had not been clued up until that point.

I have somewhat mixed feelings on the matter as I would certainly agree that the information comes too easily to our detective excluding the reader from piecing that story together for themselves but it should be said that plenty of detective work and intrigue remains after learning this information. The revelation of the killer’s identity was very satisfying being of the type where I couldn’t believe I had overlooked something simple. It is fair and easy to follow.

Unfortunately this satisfying conclusion does not quite outweigh some of the problems of the novel as a whole. Wade’s storytelling style is slow and deliberate but at points it verges on ponderous with little progress being made in the investigation beyond further corpses turning up for much of the novel.

The body count ends up being a barrier to developing the cast of suspects and too much of the solution is presented directly to the reader, resulting in a novel that seems to be working hard to avoid engaging the reader until close to the end. While that reveal is certainly strong enough to justify reading the book, Wade is capable of much better than this and if he is new to you I would encourage you to start with one of his other works such as the gorgeous Heir Presumptive.

The Long Arm of the Law edited by Martin Edwards

The Long Arm of the Law
Martin Edwards (ed)
Originally Published 2017

I have mentioned before that I am a bit of an unbeliever when it comes to short stories. I understand and respect the craft and I know that it can actually be far harder to write a really effective short story than a novel. I just have not found many that I could get all that excited about.

The Long Arm of the Law is one of the more recent short story collections published as part of the British Library Crime Classics range. Once again Martin Edwards has curated the collection, writing a general introduction explaining the themes of the book and individual shorter introductions for each story.

I would say that on the whole this is an enjoyable read, though I think there are a number of stories here that feature policemen as a character rather than being about the police investigation. The good ones though are superb and well worth your time.

The Mystery of Chenholt by Alice and Claude Askew

A fairly straightforward story in which Inspector Vane is approached by a butler who is worried his master is secretly poisoning his wife. Expect to see the twist coming though it doesn’t outstay its welcome.

The Silence of PC Hirley by Edgar Wallace

I couldn’t get into this somewhat open-ended story about a case of blackmail that escalates into murder. The most memorable thing about the story was one character referring to his wife as being ‘very seedy’ which apparently has a secondary meaning that I was unaware of.

The Mystery of a Midsummer Night by George R. Sims

A very thinly veiled fictionalized account of the Constance Kent case that you can find out more about in Kate Summerscale’s excellent The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher. This is quite a readable story but given it draws such heavy inspiration from a real case, the revelation at the end makes little impact.

The Cleverest Clue by Laurence W. Meynell

Told in the form of a barroom reminiscence, this story involves an academic who is developing an anti-aircraft defense being caught up in some intrigue. I liked the background to this and thought the resolution was good, though I think it gets a little cute with the titular clue.

The Undoing of Mr Dawes by Gerald Verner

Cute and unlike the previous story the policeman plays an important part in this one. The story involves a jewelry heist and the policeman’s efforts to see the mastermind put away for the crime. The way it is managed is quite clever and it is a pleasure to read. I’d be interested in trying more Verner so if anyone has any recommendations, please share!

The Man Who Married Too Often by Roy Vickers

Given my love of inverted mysteries it will come as no surprise at all that Roy Vickers has been on my radar for a while. I have a volume of his Department of Dead Ends mysteries that has sat near the top of my To Read list since Christmas. If this tale is anything to go by I’ll have to push them higher.

The story concerns a woman working on the stage who contrives to marry a Marchioness through a Becky Sharp-style piece of manipulation. Later she gets a couple of cruel surprises that lead her to commit murder.

The development of her case features some entertaining twists and reveals while the resolution is superb. I might, if I were nitpicking, complain that I think the police get their solution without a strong base of evidence but I was entertained by the conclusion. One of the gems of this collection!

The Case of Jacob Heylyn by Leonard R. Gribble

The most noteworthy thing about this story for me was that one of its characters happens to rubbish a key element of the previous story. I was curious whether its respective placement was coincidence or intentional.

The mystery certainly isn’t bad but it lacks the distinctive characters or lively plotting of some of the other stories in this collection.

Fingerprints by Freeman Wills Crofts

Hooray! Just when I thought that I had exhausted all of Crofts’ inverted tales I stumble on this gem. It is an incredibly short tale that gives use the basic details of what leads Jim Crouch to give himself away when he murders his uncle. Inspector French turns up and in just a few paragraphs he is able to point out why this is not the suicide it appears to be. Clever and entertaining.

Remember to Ring Twice (1950) E. C. R. Lorac

One of the shorter tales in the collection, this concerns a policeman overhearing a conversation at the bar and then shortly afterwards being called to a crime scene that is linked to one of the participants in that conversation. I can’t say this gripped me but the mechanics of how the crime is committed and its inspiration are interesting enough.

Cotton Wool and Cutlets by Henry Wade

I have been on a bit of a Henry Wade kick lately and I must confess to having been drawn to read this by the inclusion of one of his short stories. Unsurprisingly I found this to be one of the stronger crime tales in the collection, both in terms of the depiction of the police and also in the case itself.

With regards the former, one of the things I think this gets right is it shows you some of the ego and competition involved in any workplace. In terms of the latter, the premise of the faked suicide is handled exceptionally well and is undone through some simple evidence. It is interesting to discover how the crime was worked and the motivation behind it.

After the Event by Christianna Brand

{Whoops – my comments on this story were missed when I first posted this review. Thanks to Kate for indirectly prompting me to realize this!}

This story made me realize how I hope that at some point there may be a theatrical mysteries collection. This story is recounted by the Great Detective many years after it took place and involves a strangling taking place after a performance of Othello.

It all hinges on a rather simple idea but it is brilliantly executed and I was caught completely by surprise. One of the highlights of the collection.

Sometimes the Blind by Nicholas Blake

This is one of the shortest stories in the collection but it packs a lot into just a few pages. The tale is recounted by a policeman who is using it to illustrate how there are many cases where the police know who was responsible for a crime but cannot prove it sufficiently for the criminal to ever be charged with it. The story explores the motivations of the killer convincingly and I thought the ending was superb.

And now I’m kicking myself for having yet to get around to reading any of the Blake novels I have on my Kindle…

The Chief Witness by John Creasey

A superb story that packs an emotional wallop and manages to pack a neat revelation in that genuinely caught me by surprise. The story concerns the death of Evelyn Pirro who is found strangled in her bed. The immediate assumption is that her husband, whom she had started arguing violently with, was responsible though no one can understand what caused a seemingly devoted and loving couple to turn on each other.

The story is exceptionally written and Creasey manages to create three dimensional characters in just a handful of pages. The use of the child is particularly effective, the character being written as innocent but still able to provide some important information.

Old Mr Martin by Michael Gilbert

A bit of an odd one, though I found it to be quite entertaining. The owner of a sweet shop is killed by a car in what seems to be a hit and run accident. The Police are called to look at his basement where they find something that shouldn’t be there and hints at a crime.

The story was highly unpredictable and handled very well. The ending is not unexpected but I think executed very effectively.

The Moorlanders by Gil North

I found the action in this story impossible to follow which surprised me as I had little problem following the Cluff novel I tried recently. It’s not a dialect thing or a lack of familiarity with the characters that’s to blame – it just doesn’t communicate its ideas. To illustrate: I had to reread the story to pick up that there had been a motorbike accident. Unfortunately it ends the collection on a somewhat disappointing note.

Diplomat’s Folly by Henry Wade

Diplomat’s Folly
Henry Wade
Originally Published 1951

Diplomat’s Folly is set just a couple of years after the conclusion of World War II and concerns a rising diplomat, Alwyn Hundrich, who is hoping to be appointed as Ambassador to France. Unfortunately for him, it turns out that he has some skeletons in his closet that someone who knew him before the war is hoping to exploit.

When he is first contacted and offered the chance to buy some old love letters he seeks the guidance of a friend, Sir Vane Tabbard, who he tells about his indiscretion. He follows Vane’s advice that if he won’t confess all then he will need to pay up. Soon a second demand follows and Alwyn decides to enlist Vane’s son, a former army commando, to carry out the transaction for him but he meets with only partial success. And then a third request follows…

The novel is subtitled ‘A Police Novel’, though that is somewhat unsatisfactory as a description given that less than half of the novel features a Police investigation. It seems to me that Wade is not as interested in the specifics of the crime as in reflecting on how the Second World War had changed the British character.

There is a temptation to paint Wade as a purely reactionary writer pushing a view of the country sliding towards socialism and chaos because of a reckless younger generation. I don’t want to deny that those elements are in his works but I think that oversimplifies the themes and the characterizations he creates in his work.

Let’s start with the character of Alwyn, the target of the blackmail. Though we understand him to be a rising figure, he is only a few years younger than Sir Vane and his indiscretions belong to the pre-war era. He is a member of the establishment and you might expect Wade’s sympathies to be with him and yet he is presented as anything but an admirable figure having not only committed some historical indiscretions but also carrying on a clandestine affair with his best friend’s young wife.

Sir Vane is certainly a more likeable figure and tries to act according to a code of honor and yet Wade makes it clear that he is out of touch and ill-equipped to deal with post-war life. He can see that his son has returned from the war brutalized and unable to adjust back to civilian life yet he seems more focused on restoring his family home to its old glory. He certainly doesn’t seem to be able to see the imperfections of those around him. Wade may not be quite as biting in his criticism, perhaps because he belonged to that same generation, but it is certainly present.

The story he concocts is a strong one, even if it is short on opportunities for ratiocination. The first half of the novel follows the string of blackmail demands, building to an evening that will see someone found dead. The second half of the novel follows the investigation into what happened although do not expect to be taxed about who committed the crime or their motive. Nick Fuller in his review compares this second half of the novel to Crofts’ style and while I think its thematic approach gives it a very different tone, I will admit that the mechanics of the investigation can be a little timetabley.

I should probably also note that the novel commits that frustrating sin of having a murderer make their confession long before anything is actually proven against them. While this usually is a huge frustration for me, I think it just reflects that Wade is really less interested in his crime than in addressing the chief themes of his work.

If those themes sound familiar, you may be thinking that this book touches on some similar points to a Wade novel I wrote about a few months ago – Too Soon to Die. Certainly I was struck by some of the similarities though I think the themes are handled in a more nuanced and interesting way here.

Diplomat’s Folly is a novel that, while not wholly successful if judged purely as a detective story, proves interesting both in terms of its commentary on a period of transition in British society as well as in its strong character work.

Vintage Mysteries Challenge: It’s by an author you’ve read & loved before (Why)

Heir Presumptive by Henry Wade

Heir Presumptive
Henry Wade
Originally Published 1935

While I have intended to only write about an author once a month, it turns out that this is destined to be one of those rules that I will be routinely breaking. Heir Presumptive is the second Henry Wade novel I read this month following his later novel Too Soon to Die and I am happy to report that this was a far more pleasurably experience for me.

This book is, of course, yet another example of my beloved inverted mystery form although it is presented with a bit of a twist. As I alluded to in a Twitter post this weekend, I have struggled to think of a way to address that twist without revealing exactly what it is. Rather than risk spoiling the ride, I will simply say that while I saw it coming early in the book I felt it was beautifully executed and left me feeling extremely satisfied with the tone and balance of the book as a whole.

The novel begins by introducing us to Eustace Hendel, a man who had trained as a Doctor but was given an inheritance by a wealthy older woman he romanced that allowed him to give up his profession and pursue a playboy lifestyle. We learn that times have become hard for him and he is increasingly feeling the pinch as moneylenders are refusing further loans and he is having to make further economies in his lifestyle. Things are seeming hopeless for poor Eustace.

Then he receives an unexpected piece of news. Two of his cousins die unexpectedly in a swimming accident off the coast of Cornwall and suddenly Eustace finds himself just a few steps away from inheriting a title and a sizeable fortune. The only people ahead of his are his cousin, Captain David Hendel, and his terminally ill son, Desmond. If he can just find a way to eliminate David he is sure that he will comfortably outlive Desmond and his money problems will be over.

This novel can really be divided into three distinct phases. The first involves Eustace’s efforts to kill his cousin. This section is arguably the slowest of the three featuring a lengthy section in which Eustace goes deer-stalking yet it is also very suspenseful as we wonder how he will manage to pull this off without drawing attention to himself. The method used is perhaps not ingenious but it is gutsy and I felt the murder and its immediate aftermath was really quite chilling both for Eustace and for us.

The second phase of the novel sees Eustace initially feeling quite confident but soon he begins to realize that his inheritance may not go quite so smoothly as he had hoped and that he may need to take some further action. This phase does not go entirely as the reader may expect and sets up the novel’s really strong third and final phase.

Eustace is an intriguing creation because, unlike many murderers in inverted mysteries he is hardly a great criminal mind. For one thing, it soon becomes clear that he doesn’t really understand some of the intricacies of inheritance law and the entail of the family estates. Nor is he particularly charming or witty. Yet, as in many of the best inverted mysteries, the author does manage to make him a character you might feel a tiny amount of empathy for.

It is clear that though Eustace does do a terrible, vicious thing, he is not a natural killer. Nor is his life particularly enviable. While he perceives himself to have a positive, loving relationship it is clear to the reader that he is viewed only in terms of the material possessions he can provide for that girlfriend he is so desperate to keep. Kate compares her to Lady Macbeth and I think that comparison is really apt. Like Macbeth, by the end of the story we might almost wonder if Eustace is more victim than a villain…

As the novel goes on the reader will increasingly notice that Eustace does not have the level of control over his situation that he presumes. This manifests itself in several forms, not least the responses of other characters to Eustace. Here I feel Wade is particularly effective as his style of narration, a sympathetic third person, means that the reader will be drawing inferences from things that are taking place that Eustace is not aware of. They will know that his position is far more precarious than he realizes.

This all builds up to a smashing conclusion that works whether it comes as a surprise to you or if you have been expecting it for a while. I absolutely loved it and felt that it tied things together perfectly. Well, almost everything. There is one aspect of the story that I felt was left strangely unresolved given how often it is referred to in the course of the novel. I must say I am glad that Wade didn’t make use of that story point in the way I had feared and while it may be a little untidy, I won’t complain too much.

Finally, I must confess that the image I have used for this review does not match my edition which was the modern e-book reissue. Those Murder Room covers are so simple graphically that I couldn’t get excited about featuring one and then when I found the gorgeous one used here I couldn’t resist switching. If I am ever in a position to collect a printed copy of this, that is the cover I’d be aiming to possess…

Vintage Mysteries Challenge: During a trip/vacation/cruise, etc. (When)

Too Soon To Die by Henry Wade

Too Soon To Die
Henry Wade
Originally Published 1953

One of the informal goals I have set myself for this year is that I would like to read a sizeable number of inverted mysteries with the ultimate aim of creating a top ten list as suggested by Ben from The Green Capsule in a comment on my Portrait of a Murderer review.

Henry Wade’s Too Soon To Die is unlikely to be near the top of that list although it is an interesting effort. One of the things I have been really pleased to discover reading within the subgenre is that there is so much variation and here we see a criminal planning a tax scam. No sign of a murder victim in sight! Well, not at first…

Colonel Jerrod belongs to a very old and utterly undistinguished family. While the family estates have been slowly diminished as lands are sold off and businesses become unprofitable, the Jerrods have always taken pride in their continued ownership of their ancestral home, Brackton Manor. For that reason we learn that in the final days of the war Colonel Jerrod had begun a process to shift ownership of the Manor to his son, Grant, to avoid the need to pay duties on the home upon his death. All he would have to do is live for five years after signing over the property, his son would be able to avoid paying any taxes on the transfer and the Jerrods would ensure that the property remained in family hands for another generation.

At the point where the novel begins however we discover that Colonel Jerrod has received some crushing news. He has a fatal form of cancer and cannot expect to live long enough to meet that deadline. Grant suggests that there may still be a way to avoid the taxes if his father is willing to engage in a little deception and the two plot a way of making it seem that Colonel Jerrod is still alive until enough time has passed that those pesky taxes can be avoided.

This is a strong starting point for a story and I certainly found the first part of the novel to be interesting as we watch the Colonel and his son move the various elements into place that they plan to use to pull off their scheme. Unlike many of these inverted crime novels, the author does not try to convince us that this is a flawless scheme and the attentive reader will notice a few obvious loose ends and questions that investigators might have if they are able to start asking the right questions.

At this point you may be wondering how and why this will justify being part of the Murder Room imprint. After all, the crime described above seems largely one of fraud. While I am always cautious to avoid spoiling a story, I will say that a murder does take place within the narrative although I actually missed it at first as it is inferred that it will happen rather than explicitly shown taking place. I realized that I had missed something a chapter or two later and tracked back to reread the critical paragraph and, in doing so, noticed the double meaning of a phrase but I think that moment is far from clear and so I found it lacked the impact it deserved.

The remaining two thirds of the book is devoted to the investigation, initially conducted by an Examiner from the Estate Duty Office of the Commissioners of Inland Revenue. While the inquest seems to put Grant in the clear, that Examiner is determined to make a name for himself and finds the timing somewhat suspicious. I found this initial phase of the investigation to be quite interesting and somewhat along the lines of an Inspector French case. We have a doggedly determined investigator reviewing evidence and noticing small inconsistencies and while his work is not flashy, I did think Wade does a good job of showing how he could begin to piece the events together and those procedural elements are very solid.

While the investigations are interesting enough, if a little dry, the problems I have with the book lie mainly in the sections told from the perspective of Grant Jerrod. The more I read inverted crime novels, the more I come to believe that they can only be as interesting as their criminals and Grant is not only unsympathetic but also tiresome and a little dull. There is no challenging moment for the reader where they may find themselves feeling a little sympathetic for his plight or hoping he may perhaps elude the investigator’s grasp but nor is he cunning enough to be the sort of villain you are aching to see brought to justice. He is just a rather unpleasant, sad figure whose unhappiness is entirely of his own making.

Making matters worse, some of those sections feature some very awkward attempts at writing sweeping, breathless, passionate dialogue that must have seemed old fashioned even when this was first published. These passages not only felt hokey and unconvincing, they significantly slow down an already quite leisurely paced investigation.

As I finished the book I was struck with a feeling that Wade got lost somewhere along the way. He had a striking starting point for his story but he did not seem to know how he was planning to end it. In the final few chapters Wade works to build towards some sense of a thematic conclusion but here, once again, the construction seems clumsy as though he is fighting where his narrative and the characterization of his villain is leading him.

His response is to try to introduce a sense of hope into those final chapters by presenting the reader with a significant development but it not only feels clumsy and forced, it also doesn’t feel quite true to the way Grant’s character has been established up until that point. I seriously question whether Wade had planned out that ending from the beginning as, if he had, I think there were better ways he could have foreshadowed and built towards it and I think with some further revision and clarification of theme the work might have been far stronger.

I think if I were to sum up my feelings about this book it would be that it is a missed opportunity. Wade has some clever and original ideas while the procedural elements are quite effective. The problems reside in the character of Grant and, unfortunately, I found the character neither interesting or convincing. I think there were some good ideas though and the novelty of the initial crime planned does at least making it an interesting read, even if it never quite satisfied.

Vintage Mysteries Challenge: Retired from or in the armed forces (Who)