The Sir John Fielding Mystery Series

Like I’ve said many times before, I’m always on the lookout for another good mystery series to read.  I know a lot of you are too, so I thought I’d share some of my favorite ones with you and hopefully a few of them will be a good match to what you’re looking for!

“It’s a great era to write about. So much crime. The last witch was burned in England in the early 18th century. Yet the beginnings of modern times are right there, too.” – Bruce Alexander (1)

I’ll start with one of the first mystery series I read from beginning to end: the Sir John Fielding mysteries by Bruce Alexander (the pseudonym of Bruce Cook). This is a historical mystery series set in the late 1700’s that features Sir John Fielding, the real-life, blind magistrate of Bow Street Court.

“I was just reading around in a book called A House in Bow Street, a history of the Bow Street Runners, by Anthony Babington, published in the UK, when I first met with Sir John Fielding, this great, great character, and wondered why nobody had done anything about him. This was about 1976 or 77. And nobody had!” – Bruce Alexander (1)

The books are narrated by Jeremy Proctor, a fictional character, who serves as Sir John’s assistant throughout the series.  They are told as something of a memoir, as Jeremy is looking back at his adventures with Sir John Fielding after his mentor has died.  In the first book, Blind Justice, he recounts his initial meeting with Sir John when he was brought before the Bow Street Court as an accused thief… wrongly accused of course.  Sir John wasn’t fooled by the false accusation though and quickly worked out the truth of the matter.  And because Jeremy was a newly-orphaned thirteen-year-old in London for the first time, he decided to temporarily make Jeremy a ward of the court.  Jeremy’s father had been a printer and had trained Jeremy in the trade so Sir John decided that he should be apprenticed to a printer to finish his training.  A meeting with Dr. Johnson to help set up the apprenticeship is interrupted though with news of the death of a prominent figure and their first case together is underway.

The use of a young, inexperienced side-kick is particularly well suited to historical detection; much historical information can be presented to the modern reader as the detective explains his reasoning to the perplexed assistant.  Jeremy, a naive teenager from Leichfield, is somewhat of an outsider to everyday life in London, thus allowing the author to introduce the conventions of the age. (2) 

As they wrapped up the murder investigation, where he proved that he could be quite useful, Jeremy hoped that Sir John would have changed his mind about the apprenticeship.  But Sir John still feels that is the best decision and the second book in the series, Murder In Grub Street, opens with what is supposed to be Jeremy’s first day on the job.  But fate, and murder, intervene once again.

As the series continues on with many more exciting mysteries to solve, Jeremy, now firmly established as a part of Sir John’s household, quickly begins to mature into a very capable assistant.

“And I would say I have an obligation, to the reader and to Jeremy himself, to bring him up through adolescence and so on. That’s why I spend so much time on his crushes. He becomes involved, mostly in his fantasy life, with a young prostitute. He’s an adolescent boy. He lived in one of the wildest, smallest parts of London. I’ve tried to make him develop normally, truthfully.” – Bruce Alexander (1)

The last book in the series, Rules Of Engagement, was left unfinished by Bruce Alexander at his death in 2003.  His widow Judith Aller and John Shannon worked together to finish it and it was published in 2005.

I’ve read a lot of other series since I first discovered this one, but it still remains one of my favorites.  One of the most important things about a book to me is that it has unique, memorable characters and this series certainly does.  The fictional characters are well-thought-out and the addition of real-life people adds a lot to the stories.  And while I haven’t read many books set in this time period, it seems to be pretty accurate to how life was then.

Historical accuracy in characterization is another important element in this series.  Using a real historical personage as a detective is common in historical mysteries.  Alexander is thoroughly versed in the minutiae of Sir John Fielding’s life and displays that knowledge for the benefit of the reader. (2)

___

“Well, I have said that he was a good man in a bad time, and he was that. He was knighted for his social plans and for his work with the Bow Street Runners and so on…
I couldn’t tell you what Sir John Fielding was really like; but I suppose I’ve been inspired somewhat by Samuel Johnson. He’s a little less haughty than Samuel Johnson, but I would say he’s just as given to controversy. And doesn’t duck a good controversy.”  – Bruce Alexander (1)

fielding

If you’ve read The Sir John Fielding books I’d love to know what you thought about them.  And if you’d like to check out another series that features the Bow Street Runners then pick up T.F. Banks Memoirs of A Bow Street Runner series that’s set in the early 1800’s.  The Thief Taker was published in 2001 and The Emperor’s Assassin in 2003.

Sources:

1. “Cook’s Tour Of The Past” an interview of Bruce Cook for January Magazine (1999) written by Tom Nolan
http://januarymagazine.com/profiles/bruce.html

2. The Detective as Historian: History and Art in Historical Crime Fiction edited by Ray B. Browne and Lawrence A. Kreiser, Jr.
Bruce Alexander article written by Donna Bradshaw Smith.  Published by University of Wisconsin Press (2013).  Pages 176 & 178

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Coming Soon: Murder At The 42nd Street Library

The stack of books I have yet to read is taller than I am but that hasn’t dissuaded me from looking for others others to add to it.  Especially when it comes to mysteries.  I was browsing through some upcoming releases on Amazon the other day and this one caught my attention:

murder at the 42nd street library_MECH_01.indd

A mystery that involves books or the book industry is something I will definitely check out but I’ve not read too many that focus on a library. It sounds interesting!  Here’s what it is about:

This first book in an irresistible new series introduces librarian and reluctant sleuth Raymond Ambler, a doggedly curious fellow who uncovers murderous secrets hidden behind the majestic marble façade of New York City’s landmark 42nd Street Library.

Murder at the 42nd Street Library follows Ambler and his partners in crime-solving as they track down a killer, shining a light on the dark deeds and secret relationships that are hidden deep inside the famous flagship building at the corner of 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue.

In their search for the reasons behind the murder, Ambler and his crew uncover sinister, and profoundly disturbing, relationships among the scholars studying in the iconic library. Included among the players are a celebrated mystery writer who has donated his papers to the library’s crime fiction collection; that writer’s long-missing daughter, a prominent New York society woman with a hidden past, and more than one of Ambler’s colleagues at the library. Shocking revelations lead inexorably to the traumatic events that follow―the reading room will never be the same. (Amazon)

Murder at the 42nd Street Library by Con Lehane will be released on April 26th.

Other Books By Con Lehane: Beware The Solitary Drinker, Death At The Old Hotel, What Goes Around Comes Around

Stop The Presses!

Stop The Presses! is Robert Goldsborough’s latest addition to the Nero Wolfe series and I was eagerly counting the days till its release last week.

Stop The Presses

Here’s what it’s about:
Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin are tasked with protecting the most hated columnist in New York City.
There are few people Nero Wolfe respects, and Lon Cohen of the New York Gazette is one of them. So when Cohen asks for a favor, the famously brilliant—and notoriously lazy—detective is inclined to listen. According to Cohen, someone wants to kill the Gazette’s gossip columnist, Cameron Clay. Death threats are a regular hazard for Clay, who’s hurled insults and accusations at every bold-faced name in the five boroughs. But the latest threats have carried a more sinister tone.

The columnist has narrowed his potential killers down to five people: an egomaniacal developer, a disgraced cop, a corrupt councilman, a sleazy lawyer, and his ex-wife. But when Clay turns up dead, the cops deem it a suicide. The bigwigs at the Gazette don’t agree, so they retain Wolfe and his indefatigable assistant, Archie Goodwin, to figure out which of the suspects had the mettle to pull the trigger.

I finished this in about three days and really enjoyed the trip back into Nero Wolfe’s world.  But I’d have to say this is probably my least favorite of his Wolfe books.  I had a hard time staying interested in the mystery and I think it was the middle part of the book that did it to me. It was pretty repetitive: Archie would find a way to get one of the suspects to come to the brownstone, Wolfe would question them (after they were supplied with their favorite drink), the suspect left and Archie asked Wolfe what he thought about them… the same thing happened with all five suspects. And I know in an investigation that’s probably how it would actually happen but a little bit of variety would have helped.

For some reason, Fritz and Lily both bothered me in this as well.  They seemed a little off from the original books… but it could just be me remembering them wrong.

With that being said, I loved the ending!  It was different and I really didn’t expect it. And as I was still smiling from the big reveal in the office, we got another great part with Inspector Cramer and Wolfe at the end.  That may just be one of my favorite parts between the two of them from any of the books, Stout’s included.  (It’s scenes like this that really make me miss the A&E Nero Wolfe TV series. They would have done a great job with it!)

Wolfe

I started re-reading the Nero Wolfe series last year but I only made it up to The Red Box.  I’ll have to get back at it and hopefully we’ll have another book to look forward to from Robert Goldsborough.  Despite the issues I had with parts of Stop The Presses! it’s far outweighed by how much I enjoy getting new cases for some of my favorite characters to solve.

If you’ve read Stop The Presses! or any other of Goldsborough’s Nero Wolfe books I’d love to know what you thought about them!

This Edition: Paperback published by Mysterious Press/Open Road Integrated Media (2016)

Other Nero Wolfe books by Robert Goldsborough: Murder In E Minor, Death On A Deadline, The Bloodied Ivy, The Last Coincidence, Fade To Black, Silver Spire, The Missing Chapter, Archie Meets Nero Wolfe, Murder In The Ball Park, Archie In The Crosshairs

The Railway Detective

Whenever I make the trip over to Half Price Books I’ve always got a list of books to look for.  It’s usually just wishful thinking though because about 95% of the time they don’t have what I want.  But it’s never a wasted trip… I just wander the aisles until a book or two (or ten) catches my eye.  I was browsing the mystery aisle a few months ago when I noticed this one:

The Railway DetectiveAnything about trains, particularly in the mystery aisle, is bound to catch my attention and The Railway Detective by Edward Marston (Keith Miles is his real name) did just that.  I was pretty excited to find this one, especially after reading the description:
London 1851.  With the opening of the Great Exhibition at hand, interest is mounting in the engineering triumphs of the railways, but not everyone feels like celebrating…
In an audacious attack, the London to Birmingham mail train is robbed and derailed, causing many casualties.  Planned with military precision, this crime proves a challenge to Detective Inspector Robert Colbeck who fights to untangle a web of murder, blackmail and destruction.
As Colbeck closes in on the criminal masterminds, events take an unexpected turn when the beautiful Madeleine, daughter of the injured train driver, becomes a pawn in the criminal’s game.  With time running out, good and evil, new and old, battle against each other.  But will the long arm of the law have speed on its side?
Full of historical detail, The Railway Detective is an action-packed dip into murky 1850s London.

As excited as I was to read this one, I was a little disappointed by the time I finished it.  I liked the plot and the details given about the different types of trains but it just wasn’t enough to set it a part from the many other mystery series I read.  While the main characters, Detective Inspector Colbeck and Sergeant Leeming, are likable enough all the characters felt a little flat, especially the main “criminal mastermind”. The dialogue seemed to be pretty repetitive in parts too.

The Railway Detective did keep me interested enough to finish it though and I really do like the idea of a mystery series focusing on trains and railways.  I’ll probably try one or two more books in the series.  A lot of times a series improves with each new book and hopefully this one will too!  If you’ve read The Railway Detective, I’d love to know what you thought about it!

This Edition: Paperback published by Allison and Busby (2005)

Other books in The Railway Detective series: The Excursion Train, The Railway Viaduct, The Iron Horse, Murder On The Brighton Express, The Silver Locomotive Mystery, Railway To The Grave, Blood On The Line, The Stationmaster’s Farewell, Peril On The Royal Train, A Ticket To Oblivion, Inspector Colbeck’s Casebook, Timetable Of Death

Coming Soon: Stop The Presses!

Rex Stout is my favorite mystery author and I love his Nero Wolfe series.  So I was a little hesitant the first time I picked up a Nero Wolfe book written by Robert Goldsborough.  There was nothing to worry about!  I’ve really enjoyed his additions to the series.  After receiving permission from the estate of Rex Stout, Goldsborough published seven Nero Wolfe books in the 80s & 90s.  He then took a break from the Wolfe books to focus on his own series featuring Steve Malek.

He turned his attention back to Nero Wolfe with the publication of Archie Meets Nero Wolfe in 2012 (my favorite of his books so far!) and has followed it up with three more books, including the one being released next week.

Stop The PressesStop The Presses! will be released on March 8th.  Here’s what it is about:

Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin are tasked with protecting the most hated columnist in New York City.
There are few people Nero Wolfe respects, and Lon Cohen of the New York Gazette is one of them. So when Cohen asks for a favor, the famously brilliant—and notoriously lazy—detective is inclined to listen. According to Cohen, someone wants to kill the Gazette’s gossip columnist, Cameron Clay. Death threats are a regular hazard for Clay, who’s hurled insults and accusations at every bold-faced name in the five boroughs. But the latest threats have carried a more sinister tone.

The columnist has narrowed his potential killers down to five people: an egomaniacal developer, a disgraced cop, a corrupt councilman, a sleazy lawyer, and his ex-wife. But when Clay turns up dead, the cops deem it a suicide. The bigwigs at the Gazette don’t agree, so they retain Wolfe and his indefatigable assistant, Archie Goodwin, to figure out which of the suspects had the mettle to pull the trigger.

Other Nero Wolfe books by Robert Goldsborough: Murder In E Minor, Death On A Deadline, The Bloodied Ivy, The Last Coincidence, Fade To Black, Silver Spire, The Missing Chapter, Archie Meets Nero Wolfe, Murder In The Ball Park, Archie In The Crosshairs

Website: www.robertgoldsborough.com

A Trip Down Mystery Lane: The Golden Age

Dorothy L. Sayers was a pretty big fan of Sherlock Holmes.  In fact, she even wrote a little bit of “fanfiction”! In April of 1934, she was one of the founding members of the Sherlock Holmes Society and she wrote several essays on aspects relating to the Holmes’ canon.  Although her enthusiasm on the subject waned somewhat after WWII (she wrote “that it was possible to overdo Holmes Worship”), in the 1950’s she made at least two more excursions into the world of Sherlock Holmes.  She wrote a script for part of BBC’s “Tribute to Sherlock Holmes on the Occasion of his 100th Birthday” broadcast that aired on January 8, 1954, and in October of 1955, she took part in John Dickson Carr’s skit at the annual meeting of the Detection Club.  The skit, called “The Case of the French Ambassador’s Trousers”, featured Cyril Hare as Holmes, John Rhode as Watson, Carr as the French ambassador and Sayers as Mrs. Hudson.

Back to the script for the BBC broadcast…  for her part of the tribute Sayers decided to write about Lord Peter Wimsey meeting Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.  It’s not just any meeting though; a distraught Wimsey goes to Holmes for help solving a difficult case.  Of course, he is rather young at the time and the case he needs help with is that of a missing kitten named Seneca.  The chief suspect was the maid, who was known to dislike cats.  Holmes listened to Wimsey’s story and very quickly provided him with the solution.  As the script comes to a close, Dr. Watson escorts Wimsey back home and they find the kitten exactly where Holmes said it would be.  (This short script was the last story Sayers wrote about Wimsey.)

sayers

In the 1920’s, a real-life mystery caught the attention of both of Holmes and Wimsey’s creators.  In December of 1926, Agatha Christie disappeared.  In the evening of December 3rd, she drove away from her home in Berkshire and was not seen again for eleven days.  During those eleven days her car was found abandoned and there was plenty of speculation about what happened to the famous author. The home secretary at the time pressured the police to wrap the case up quickly and Arthur Conan Doyle and Dorothy L. Sayers both tried to lend a helping hand.  Doyle took one of Christie’s gloves to a medium and Sayers visited the spot where Christie disappeared.  Apparently neither of them had much luck.  (Sayers did get something out of the case though… she used the location where Christie disappeared in her book Unnatural Death).  Agatha Christie was eventually found at a hotel in Harrogate, registered under an assumed name.  Obviously there were still plenty of unanswered questions, questions that Christie couldn’t seem to answer, so the speculation continued.

Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie were two of the great writers during the Golden Age of detective fiction, but they certainly weren’t the only ones.  So who were the greatest writers?  Ellery Queen (the authors not the detective) tried to answer that question to celebrate the 10th anniversary of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine.  This was no easy task so they decided to recruit some help. Frederic Dannay and Manfred Lee (the cousins who were Ellery Queen… the author) asked more than 100 authors, publishes, critics, etc. to submit their own picks for the top ten best active mystery writers.  They would use these lists to compile their final list of the top ten.  Agatha Christie’s list did not include herself but did include Ellery Queen.  P.G. Wodehouse started his list with Agatha Christie.  Raymond Chandler declined to participate.  In a letter to Dannay he wrote, “No, I would not care to nominate the ten best living detective-story writers.  I don’t mind sticking my neck out, but the point is, one has to agree on a few fundamentals before one starts picking lists of ten bests… I think you are up against a difficult problem, because I think we may take it as granted that a mystery fan would rather read a bad mystery than none at all.”

Despite Chandler’s reservations, a final list was compiled but they ended up including twelve authors instead of ten: Ellery Queen, Agatha Christie, John Dickson Carr, Dorothy L. Sayers, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Georges Simenon, Rex Stout, Erle Stanley Gardner, Margery Allingham, Ngaio Marsh and Mary Roberts Rinehart.

I wonder how Chandler felt about being included in the list?  He may have had something to say about it because he didn’t like being associated with certain types of authors. In a letter to Hardwick Moseley, a sales manager at Houghton Mifflin, he wrote, “Just let me percolate.  I’ll find my public with almost no assistance from advertising.  But do as little as possible to lump me in the public mind with the smooth and shallow operators like Marsh and Stout and Christie.  Very likely they write better mysteries than I do, but their words don’t get up and walk.  Mine do, although it is embarrassing to have to announce it.”

He elaborated further on Christie in a letter to Robert Campigny, a French literary critic, “I find your praise of Agatha Christie a little hard to swallow.  Without serious consideration, it is in bad taste to denigrate her books simply because I find them without interest, but the idea that Mrs. Christie baffles her readers without trickery seems almost impossible for me to believe.  Isn’t it true that she creates her surprises by destroying the portrait of a character or of a person in a novel whom she has up to this point depicted in colors completely opposed to the finished portrait?”

Chandler had some thoughts on Sayers too. He said in a letter to Bernice Baumgarten, an editor at Brandt and Brandt, that “Dorothy Sayers tried to make the jump from the mystery to the novel of manners and take the mystery along with her.  She tried to move over, with all her baggage, from the people who can plot but who can’t write to the people who can write and, all too often, can’t plot.  She didn’t really make it, because the novel of manners she aimed at was in itself too slight a thing to be important.”

So, you’re asking, what did Chandler have to say about Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes.  Well, the answer lies in a letter to James Keddie Jr., a member of the “Baker Street Irregulars”.  Chandler wrote, “As for the enjoyment of Sherlock Holmes, it appears to me at this date to rely partly on nostalgia and tradition and partly on qualities which did not originally make the principal interest of the Holmes stories.  Doyle understood the uses of eccentricity, but to a person with any knowledge of the police and how they operate his policemen are utterly absurd.  His scientific premises are very unreliable, and the element of mystery to a sophisticated mind frequently does not exist.  Example: The Red-Headed League.  Of course we do not have the privilege of reading Holmes fresh from the press.”

Dorothy L. Sayers begs to differ: “In 1887 A Study in Scarlet was flung like a bombshell into the field of detective fiction, to be followed within a few short and brilliant years by the marvellous series of Sherlock Holmes short stories.  The effect was electric. Conan Doyle took up the Poe formula and galvanized it into life and popularity.  He cut out the elaborate psychological introductions or restated them in crisp dialogue.  He brought into prominence what Poe had only lightly touched upon – the deduction of staggering conclusions from trifling indications in the Dumas-Cooper-Gaboriau manner.  He was sparkling, surprising, and short.  It was the triumph of the epigram.”

Pit Stops

– Sayers is said to have made Lord Peter Wimsey’s home address, 110A Piccadilly, to be half of Holmes’ address:  221B Baker Street.

– Ellery Queen may have had an identity crisis.  The authors’ real names were Daniel Nathan and Emanuel Lepofsky.  Professionally they were known as Frederic Dannay and Manfred Lee.  Together, they were the author Ellery Queen (although they occasionally allowed other writers to publish as Ellery Queen as well).  Ellery Queen the author, wrote about Ellery Queen the amateur detective… who is also a mystery writer.  Dannay and Lee also wrote together under the name Barnaby Ross.

– Would Raymond Chandler think that Lord Peter Wimsey was the right kind of person to become a detective?  I think you know the answer to that.  In a letter to James Sandoe, a librarian at the University of Colorado, he wrote, “I don’t deny the mystery writer the privilege of making his detective any sort of person he wants to make him – a poet, philosopher, student of ceramics or Egyptology, or a master of all the sciences like Dr. Thorndike.  What I don’t seem to cotton to is the affectation of gentility which does not belong to the job and which is in effect a subconscious expression of snobbery, the kind of thing that reached its high-water mark in Dorothy Sayers.”

Sources

Sayers On Holmes: Essays and Fiction on Sherlock Holmes – Introduction by Alzina Stone Dale
Paperback published by the Mythopoeic Press in 2002

“Christies Most Famous Mystery Solved at Last” by Vanessa Thorpe
Article appeared in The Guardian on October 14, 2006
http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2006/oct/15/books.booksnews

“Ellery Queen’s ‘Double Lives’” by Herbert Mitgang
Article appeared in The New York Times on March 5, 1988
http://www.nytimes.com/1988/03/05/books/ellery-queen-s-double-lives.html

Selected Letters of Raymond Chandler – Edited by Frank MacShane
Paperback published by Delta in 1987

Some Danger Involved

“If someone had told me, those many years ago, that I would spend the bulk of my life as assistant and eventual partner to one of the most eminent detectives in London, I would have thought him a raving lunatic.” (Page 1)

The start of a new year may have you contemplating a career change.  Yes, the long process of searching and interviewing for potential opportunities can be overwhelming but you know it will be worth it in the end if you find the right job.  Thomas Llewelyn had just about hit rock bottom when he began his job search, and several failed interviews certainly didn’t help him feel any better.  He was just about to give up completely when an advertisement caught his eye:

“ASSISTANT to prominent enquiry agent. Typing and shorthand required. Some danger involved in performance of duties. Salary commensurate with ability. 7 Craig’s Court.” (Page 3)

Some Danger Involved

Needless to say, after a somewhat unusual interview, Cyrus Barker hires Llewelyn as his assistant and it’s not long before they have a murder to investigate.

From The Cover: “An atmospheric debut novel set on the gritty streets of Victorian London, Some Danger Involved introduces detective Cyrus Barker and his assistant, Thomas Llewelyn, as they work to solve the gruesome murder of a young scholar in London’s Jewish ghetto. When the eccentric and enigmatic Barker takes the case, he must hire an assistant, and out of all who answer an ad for a position with “some danger involved,” he chooses downtrodden Llewelyn, a gutsy young man with a murky past.

As they inch ever closer to the shocking truth behind the murder, Llewelyn is drawn deeper and deeper into Barker’s peculiar world of vigilante detective work, as well as the heart of London’s teeming underworld.

Brimming with wit and unforgettable characters and steeped in authentic period detail, Some Danger Involved is a captivating page-turner that introduces an equally captivating duo.”

I’ve read a lot of mysteries that have dynamic main characters… the kind that you can never learn enough about and that you can hardly wait to go on another adventure with.  What a lot of these mysteries are lacking though is an equally engaging cast of supporting characters.  You get the feeling with some of them that they only exist to fill space in the story.  That’s not the case with Some Danger Involved (or any other books in the series).  These pages are brimming with interesting characters that all add to the story in their own unique way.  I still get excited every time they head down the tunnel to Ho’s restaurant!

Just as importantly, the mystery at the center of Some Danger Involved is every bit as interesting as the characters and kept me guessing right up to the end. I think this is the first story I’ve read that involves Victorian England’s Jewish ghetto and that helped set it apart from other mysteries I’ve read based in the same time period.

Now, back to those main characters.  I think Barker and Llewelyn are a great addition to the world of crime-solving duos.  And while I like Cyrus Barker, for me Thomas Llewelyn is the the stand-out character of the series.  I’d say that right now he’s my second favorite detective! (Number one on that list is Archie Goodwin from Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe series).

Just One More Thing: As I didn’t discover this series till about the time The Black Hand was published (2008), I read through the first five books back to back.  The next book in the series wasn’t published till 2014, so I reread those five books just before the sixth one was released. I enjoyed them again as much as I did on the first read!  

This Edition: Paperback published by Touchstone (2005)

Other Books In This Series: To Kingdom Come, The Limehouse Text, The Hellfire Conspiracy, The Black Hand, Fatal Enquiry, Anatomy of Evil

You Might Also Like: The Sir John Fielding mystery series by Bruce Alexander

Have you read any of the Barker & Llewelyn books?  I’d love to know what you thought about them!

Mystery In White: A Christmas Crime Story

“The Great Snow began on the evening of December 19th.  Shoppers smiled as they hurried home, speculating on the chances of a White Christmas.” (page 11)

Mystery In White

“It snowed all day and all night.  On the 22nd it was still snowing.  Snowballs flew, snowmen grew.  Sceptical children regained their belief in fairyland, and sour adults felt like Santa Claus, buying more presents than they had ever intended.” (page 11)

The snow that inspired thoughts of a white Christmas quickly turned into a blizzard that threatened to ruin Christmas plans.  Traffic soon ground to a halt and even the trains became snowbound.  The 11.37 from Euston came to stop near the village of Hemmersby and inside one of its third-class compartments six of the main characters of J. Jefferson Farjeon’s Mystery In White are beginning to realize that they’re not going to reach their holiday destinations anytime soon.  The old man, the clerk, the chorus girl, the brother and sister, and the elderly bore eventually decide to leave the train and see if the branch line at Hemmersby is fairing any better.  Though they don’t all leave at the same time, they all somehow manage to navigate through the blinding snow to the same country house.

They are glad for the shelter from the storm, but they quickly realize that something isn’t quite right with the house. There’s a nice fire going and tea has been set out but the house is completely deserted.  And then there’s that bread knife on the kitchen floor…

The last person from the train to arrive is the elderly bore and he brings some disconcerting news with him.  A passenger in the compartment next to the one they had been in has been found murdered.  Naturally, they all begin to wonder if one of them could be the murderer but as the story progresses and more people show up at the house they begin to realize that the mystery of the house is every bit as important as the mystery on the train.

“Christmas has got to be Christmas, wherever you spend it.” (page 80)

I really enjoyed Mystery In White!  While the mystery itself wasn’t all that suspenseful the story was entertaining and there were a lot of great characters.  They’re making themselves at home in someone else’s house, determined to have a cheerful Christmas while simultaneously trying to solve the murder.  I think this is going to be one of my yearly Christmas reads!

From The Cover: ‘The horror on the train, great though it may turn out to be, will not compare with the horror that exists here, in this house.’ On Christmas Eve, heavy snowfall brings a train to a halt near the village of Hemmersby. Several passengers take shelter in a deserted country house, where the fire has been lit and the table laid for tea – but no one is at home.
Trapped together for Christmas, the passengers are seeking to unravel the secrets of the empty house when a murderer strikes in their midst.
This classic Christmas mystery is now republished for the first time since the 1930s, with an introduction by the award-winning crime writer Martin Edwards.

This Edition: Paperback published by The British Library (2014)

You Might Also Like: Whose Body by Dorothy L. Sayers