Book Review: Death in Captivity by Michael Gilbert

Quick Review (read on for full review)

An engaging thriller-style murder mystery that kept me guessing until the very end. A great cast of characters, a compelling setting and wonderful storytelling ensured there was never a dull moment. 4 / 5

Summary (from back of book)

A man is found dead in an escape tunnel beneath an Italian prisoner-of-war camp. Did he die in an accidental collapse – or was this murder? Captain Henry ‘Cuckoo’ Goyles, master tunneller and amateur detective, takes up the case.

This classic locked-room mystery with a closed circle of suspects is woven together with a thrilling story of escape from the camo, as the Second World War nears its endgame and the British prisoners prepare to flee into the Italian countryside.

Favourite Quote

“I’ve no objection to them playing baseball, as long as they don’t do it on the rugger pitch.”

(From Death in Captivity by Michael Gilbert, page 78)

Review

This story is quite different to other British Library Crime Classics I have so far read.

From the title of the book you would be forgiven for thinking is a sombre, dark story but it’s not. More in the vein of The Great Escape, this story is a light, very British tale of prisoners-of-war being held in an Italian prison camp during WWII, where rank and hierarchy are maintained and the main goals are escape and deception. That is, until one of the prisoners is found dead in one of the escape tunnels.

This was a very interesting mystery that kept me guessing until the end. The complex relationships between those being held in the camp ensure you’re never quite certain of some of the characters motivations. Not only are British POWs being interred at this camp but other nationalities too, as well as the possibility or double agents and spies. Discovery is always a danger and heightened the tension throughout.

If you enjoy WWII films, especially of the ilk of The Great Escape, I have no doubt you’ll enjoy this one too. The author himself spent time in an Italian POW camp, and so brought his first-hand knowledge to the tale. It exudes authenticity and I was interested to learn the book was made into a film, which I would love to see one day.

Rating

Book Review: The Z Murders by J. Jefferson Farjeon

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A mixed review.  Interesting premise but was slightly let down by the execution.  An easy,  light-hearted crime novel, that is a product of its time.  If you enjoy Golden Age crime writing, you might enjoy this. 3 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Richard Temperley arrives at Euston station early on a fogbound London morning. He takes refuge in a nearby hotel, along with a disagreeable fellow passenger, who had snored his way through the train journey. But within minutes the other man has snored for the last time – he has been shot dead while sleeping in an armchair.

Temperley has a brief encounter with a beautiful young woman, but she flees the scene.

When the police arrive, Detective Inspector James discovers a token at the crime scene: a small piece of enamelled metal. Its colour was crimson, and it was in the shape of the letter Z. Temperley sets off in pursuit of the mysterious woman from the hotel, and finds himself embroiled in a cross-country chase – by train and taxi – on the tail of a sinister serial killer.

This classic novel by the author of the best-selling Mystery in White is a gripping thriller by a neglected master of the genre.

Favourite Quote

‘Youth splashes through mud to reach the youth it loves; it cannot delay its rejoicing or its weeping.  With middle-age, comfort supersedes Cupid.’

(The Z Murder by J. Jefferson Farjeon, page 238)

Review

Hmm…what to say of The Z Murders?  I think this is going to be a mixed review…

To begin, let’s take a look at what I didn’t like about this story…

There’s a lot of internal dialogue and characters imaginings of ‘what if’, which did little to add to the story or move it forward.  Unfortunately, it’s not only the main characters that are guilty of this, but some of the lesser one’s too.

I found a number of the characters frustrating in their behaviour and motives and, in my opinion, didn’t act naturally at all. Some aspects of the storyline were just not convincing.  The villain was terrible, strange and creepy, but his own explanations for his actions fell short of satisfactory.

So what did I like about the story?  Well, more than I disliked, that’s for sure.

As the story unfolds we are given a wonderful glimpse of England between the wars (the story was originally published in 1932, but was re-released by The British Library Crime Classics in 2015).  We get to see a busy London railway station (who doesn’t like trains?!), before visiting smaller towns and cities, as well as more rural locales.  I am also excited when a book I’m reading mentions a place I know personally, and in this instance it was Boston in Lincolnshire and more recently, Whitchurch in Shropshire.

Detective Inspector James of Scotland Yard was interesting if perhaps prone to making a number of unorthodox decisions. Dutton, the man under the inspector, was also intriguing and added humour to the story.

Farjeon’s writing style is clear and humorous in places. Some passages of the prose were simply wonderful and evoked both suspense and atmosphere.

I ascertained why the Z murders were so called before the explanation was revealed, which I was pleased about, but as for the mystery…I’m not really sure it was there to begin with because, apart from finding red metal z’s at the murder scenes there were no clues for the reader to crack.

All-in-all, an average read, but if you enjoy Golden Age crime writing you might enjoy this.  I have another one of the author’s books on my TBR list, Mystery in White, which is, by all accounts his best novel, and I am greatly looking forward to reading it at some point in the future.

Rating