Book Review: Miss Pinkerton by Mary Roberts Rinehart

Quick Review (read on for full review)

Cosy mystery at its best – a good story, interesting setting and a cast of intriguing characters. Highly recommended! 5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

Miss Adams is a nurse, not a detective—at least, not technically speaking. But while working as a nurse, one does have the opportunity to see things police can’t see and an observant set of eyes can be quite an asset when crimes happen behind closed doors. Sometimes Detective Inspector Patton rings Miss Adams when he needs an agent on the inside. And when he does, he calls her “Miss Pinkerton” after the famous detective agency.

Everyone involved seems to agree that mild-mannered Herbert Wynne wasn’t the type to commit suicide but, after he is found shot dead, with the only other possible killer being his ailing, bedridden aunt, no other explanation makes sense. Now the elderly woman is left without a caretaker and Patton sees the perfect opportunity to employ Miss Pinkerton’s abilities. But when she arrives at the isolated country mansion to ply her trade, she soon finds more intrigue than anyone outside could have imagined and—when she realizes a killer is on the loose—more terror as well.

Reprinted for the first time in twenty years, Miss Pinkerton is a suspenseful tale of madness and murder. The book served as the basis for a 1932 film with the same title, and its titular character appeared in several others of Rinehart’s most popular novels.

Favourite Quote

I had to chuckle at this quote, Miss Adams scathing appraisal of Florence Lenz:

“I knew her sort the minute I saw her. They never forget that their employer is a man, and when he is, like Mr. Glenn, pretty much a man of the world and not married, that he may represent anything from a tidy flat to a marriage license.”

(From Miss Pinkerton by Mary Roberts Rinehart, page 79)

Review

I really enjoyed reading this story. For a book first published in 1932, it was easy to read with a good pace and flow. It was engaging and entertaining, and I couldn’t quite put my finger on who I thought had done it for most of the story.

I liked the interaction between Miss Adams and Detective Inspector Patton, the latter vacillated between concern for the danger he puts Miss Adams in and the belief that she can take care of herself – which she can. He’s never condescending to her, and they both know, regardless of the danger posed by the suspects in the case, her curiosity will outweigh all other arguments and she will see it through to the end.

The best thing about Miss Adams character is that, although she is placed in her position by Patton, she is guided by what she believes is right or wrong, not the police investigation. She doesn’t simply do as she’s told. If she doesn’t agree with him, she doesn’t pretend she does – although she might keep her cards close to her chest. Neither does she ignore her own instincts.

The old Mitchell house made for an interesting setting. The family have fallen on hard times and died off until only Miss Juliet remains and her nephew, Hebert Wynne. The house was once a grand mansion but there being so little money, they have had to shut up most of it, especially the grander rooms. Smaller collections of rooms have been turned into apartments: a set for Miss Juliet, one for Hebert, and another for the servants, elderly married couple Hugo and Mary. Knowing there were rooms off limit, added an extra layer of tension to the storytelling which I appreciated.

This is the first book I’ve read by the author, and having seen that she was a prolific writer (Goodreads says there are 277 distinct works by her), I will definitely be reading more of her stories in the future.

I have a feeling I am going to be collecting these American Mystery Classics the same way as I’m collecting the British Library Crime Classics – and I think that says everything about what I thought to this book.

Highly recommended to mystery fans and fans of Golden Age Crime stories.

Rating

Book Review: Mystery In White by J. Jefferson Farjeon

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A fun, solid wintry classic crime read, perfect for reading over the Christmas holiday. 3 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

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 republished for the first time since the 1930s, with an introduction by the award-winning crime writer Martin Edwards.

Favourite Quote

“Miss Noyes,” replied Lydia, “suppose this house belonged to you, and you returned to it after the world’s worst snowstorm, would you rather find your larder empty or seven skeletons?…”

(From Mystery in White by J. Jefferson Farjeon, page 79)

Review

I read this story for Festive Reads Fortnight 2019 but never got around to posting the review, so I waited a whole year so that I could as I thought it would seem quite out of season to do anything else.

Mystery in White is a fun, entertaining read.  Now, if you think from the summary or even the book cover, which is just so lovely, that this story is like Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express, it is not. The stories are very much different.

The premise is very good and the isolated location and set up of what’s to come pulled me right into the story.  The cast of characters was interesting and varied. Each brought something different to the narrative, but that being said, I didn’t particularly warm to many of them. The setting was my favourite part of the story. Set one Christmas Eve in the 1930s, we are treated to a train ride, snowstorm and isolated country house. The story itself has a number of elements of the classic crime story: a locked room mystery, a murder, a list of suspects who hitherto have been strangers to one another, a little atmospheric spookiness…

The main problem I had with this story (and it is the same problem I had with the only other J. Jefferson Farjeon story I have read, The Z Murders – see my review here), is that the author has a habit of introducing new characters much later in the story than is often usual for a mystery.  And these characters are main characters around which the rest of the story seems to build. Most readers who enjoy mysteries, enjoy trying to solve it as the story unfolds, and that becomes a little difficult when important elements of the tale are deliberately withheld by the author.

However, it is still a fun read if you’re looking for a typically British golden age crime story, and I think it would be an entertaining choice if it was ever picked up for TV or film.

I’ve really been enjoying making a way through the British Library Crime Classics, and although Mystery in White is not my favourite out of the ones I’ve so far read, it was certainly worth a read, especially in the run up to Christmas.

Rating

Book Review: Death on The Cherwell by Mavis Doriel Hay

Quick Review (read on for full review)

An enjoyable, light-hearted mystery, in an interesting setting and with an extensive cast of characters. Cosy and charming. 3.5 / 5

Summary (from Goodreads)

For Miss Cordell, principal of Persephone College, there are two great evils in the world: unladylike behavior among her students and bad publicity for the college. So her prim and cosy world is turned upside down when a secret society of undergraduates meets by the river on a gloomy January afternoon, only to find the drowned body of the college bursar floating in her canoe.

The police assume that a student prank got out of hand, but the resourceful Persephone girls suspect foul play, and take the investigation into their own hands. Soon they uncover the tangled secrets that led to the bursar’s death – and the clues that point to a fellow student.

This classic mystery novel, with its evocative setting in an Oxford women’s college, is now republished for the first time since the 1930s with an introduction by the award-winning crime writer Stephen Booth

Favourite Quote

“Undergraduates, especially those in their first year, are not, of course, quite sane or quite adult.  It is sometimes considered that they are not quite human.”

(From Death on The Cherwell by Mavis Doriel Hay, page 11)

*

“In the garden she found one of those wooden labels used for marking where you’ve planted things, and on part of this she scratched one of her family curses.  She explained to me later that it wasn’t the worst sort of curse; it wasn’t supposed to kill the victim but only make her hair fall out or her teeth decay or something of that kind.”

(From Death on The Cherwell by Mavis Doriel Hay, page 194)

Review

I’m slowly working my way through the British Library Crime Classics, which I am enjoying immensely. Death on The Cherwell is one of three books by this author in this series.

This book was excellent in parts.  I enjoyed the fact that it was a fairly light-hearted read, and though it was a little predictable in places, it was cosy and charming.  The girls’ secret society was amusing, but their tendency to talk every plan through slowed the pace.

My favourite character was Drega Czernak, a student at Persephone college from Yugoslavia.  Read today, I found her character almost serves to poke fun at the correct way the English did everything. I’m not sure that was the intention when the book was published in 1935, as her role is that of the stereotypical foreigner, but that is how I perceived it reading 85 years later.

I had expected the mystery to be solved by the girls of Persephone college as the story opens with them, giving the impression it is they who are about to investigate the murder they are soon to discover.  This however, was not the case.  Although they remain present throughout the story, it is the police who primarily undertake the investigating while the students maintain a bit more of a “Famous Five” vibe of entertaining adventures in the quest to uncover evidence.

One of the downsides to the story was the extensive cast.  There were students to remember from both the girls’ college (Persephone) and the boys’ college (St Simeon’s), then there were the teaching staff, the murder victim and their family, the police (both local and from Scotland Yard), the suspects and then a good number of people connected to everyone else – staff, family, friends…Although I did manage to keep on top of who was who and where they fitted into the story, it did feel a little overwhelming.

I enjoyed this mystery, and am looking forward to reading the author’s other two novels: Murder Underground and The Santa Klaus Murder, at some point in the future.  I recommend Death on The Cherwell to those who have a connection to the Oxford colleges or Oxford itself, and equally to those who enjoy golden age crime stories.  Well worth a read.

Rating

3.5 / 5

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

Short Story Review: They Never Get Caught by Margery Allingham


This short story was found in Great Crime Stories first published by Chancellor Press in 1936.

Quick Review (read on for full review)

An interesting, engaging read from the ‘golden age’ of crime writing with a great twist at the end. 4 / 5

Summary

Harold Brownrigg is a chemist with a few money problems and a wandering eye.  His wife, Millie, is just dull and stupid, nothing like some of the pretty girls that come into his shop.  But none are so captivating as Phyllis, a young woman half his age.

However, Phyllis feels guilty about what they are doing even if he does not, and so decides to end it.  This is too much for Harold, especially when he hears that Phyllis has been seen about town with a younger chap in a flashy car.  It is becoming more and more obvious for Harold that Millie is just a problem he needs to get rid of.  Once he has got rid of her, not only will it clear the way for him to be with Phyllis but he will also be able to get his hands on the money left to Millie by her father.

And so begins the intricate planning of a murder.

Favourite Quote

Over-dark, round, hot eyes had Mr Brownrigg; not at all the sort of eyes for a little, plump, middle-aged chemist with a placid wife like Millie.

(From They Never Get Caught by Margery Allingham)

Review

They Never Get Caught was an interesting, engaging read.  Written by one of the queens of golden age crime writing, this is the first story I have read by Margery Allingham (and as of 2019, I have read it twice), though I have a number of Campion novels sitting on my bookshelf.

I felt very sorry for poor Millie as I moved through the story.  Harold was extremely cold, even when he felt unnerved by what he was trying to do.

The story was cleverly written, and the number of characters and points of view from which we see what is going on, is handled very well given the story is told in under twenty pages.  The main POV is from Harold himself, though glimpses are provided by Millie and the errand boy Bill Perry.

The twist in the tale – which I won’t mention – was very good.  I didn’t expect it, probably because I was too preoccupied by the callous nature of Harold.

A short, satisfying read, if you like ‘golden age’ crime stories, then I would recommend They Never Get Caught to you.

Rating


Re-read and review updated in March 2019.  Originally read and reviewed in October 2014.

Book Review: Death of an Airman by Christopher St John Sprigg

Quick Review (read on for full review)

A fun and entertaining mystery from the Golden Age of crime writing.  With plenty of twists to keep the reader guessing, I can’t recommend this book highly enough. 5 / 5

Summary (from back of book)

George Furnace, flight instructor at Baston Aero Club, dies instantly when his plane crashes into the English countryside.  People who knew him are baffled – Furnace was a first-rate pilot, and the plane was in perfect condition – and the inquest records a verdict of death by misadventure.

An Australian visitor to the aero club, Edwin Marriot, Bishop of Cootamundra, suspects that the true story is more complicated.  Could this be a dramatic suicide – or even murder?  Together with Inspector Bray of Scotland Yard, the intrepid bishop must uncover a cunning criminal scheme.

Favourite Quote

‘You’ve heard of Brownies, I suppose?’

‘A particularly repellent breed of Girl Guide, aren’t they?  Whenever I review a public function they seem to creep in on it somehow toward the end.  They must be the most accomplished gate-crashers in this country.’

(Death of an Airman by Christopher St John Sprigg, pg 92)

Review

This was a very enjoyable read.  On the whole, the story is fun and light-hearted in tone but certainly not silly.  There is quite a bit of talk about planes and how they operate / fly but this is pertinent to the story. I even found that the technical details about flying didn’t read as dreary or heavy-going.

There are plenty of twists and turns as the story unfolds, keeping you guessing as to the solution of the mystery.  I had a few ideas as I read along, but I was nowhere near certain until just before the reveal.  The red herrings are cleverly woven into the story, so they don’t stand out as if a neon sign is flashing above them that reads “FALSE CLUE”.  I can’t praise the writing of the story high enough.  It was hard to put down, and I didn’t want to stop reading until I found out whodunnit.

The characters were great: some were eccentric, others terrible funny (I’m looking at you Lady Crumbles) and they were all believable and well-drawn.  My favourite character was Sarah Sackbutt, the manager and secretary of the flying club, closely followed by the bishop.

I like how the evidence at the inquest was presented in the book.  Instead of having the reader actually read the scene at the inquest, we were given each statement that was delivered, followed by the jury’s verdict.  This made the information easily accessible as well as offering a glimpse of the personalities of the major characters without slowing the pace of the storytelling.

It’s terribly sad that the author died so young and we only have a handful of his novels.  If they are half as good as Death of an Airman, they will be brilliant, and I’m looking forward to reading them.

Highly recommended to fans of Golden Age crime writing.

Rating