Digging a little deeper: June’s classic crime in the blogosphere

Plenty of reviews for Stuart Palmer's Hildegard Withers novels this month - they have just been re-released by Mysterious Press.

Plenty of reviews for Stuart Palmer’s Hildegarde Withers novels this month – they have just been re-released by Mysterious Press.

A little late to June’s best of the blogosphere, but it was a good month, especially in terms of highlighting a few more obscure (or at least, rarely blogged) writers.

A first mention on here for Ann Cleeves, creator of one of my favourite TV cops, Vera.

My reading passion is crime in translation. I love obscure Scandinavians and quirky Frenchwomen. There’s a delicious voyeurism in reading about another culture’s preoccupations and obsessions. Popular fiction is often concerned with the domestic, so we glimpse inside the protagonists’ bedrooms, taste their food and drink their wine. It’s a way of travelling vicariously. My choice of novel isn’t translated, but it first triggered my interest in European crime fiction.

The novel is Nicolas Freeling’s Love in Amsterdam (1962), reviewed at Petrona Remembered. Ann makes an interesting comparison with P. D. James’ Cover Her Face, published in the same year, a far more traditional crime novel: ‘if class is at the heart of COVER HER FACE, sex is at the heart of LOVE IN AMSTERDAM.’

Also at Petrona Remembered, Martin Edwards looked at Francis Iles’ Malice Aforethought.

“It was not until several weeks after he had decided to murder his wife that Dr. Bickleigh took active steps in the matter. Murder is a serious business. The slightest step may be disastrous. Dr. Bickleigh had no intention of risking disaster.”

Bev at My Reader’s Block looked at Leo Bruce’s Jack on the Gallows Tree

Carolus Deene, Senior History Master at a boys’ public school and gentleman detective extraordinaire is faced with a very odd murder case. In the course of an evening, two elderly ladies from Buddington-on-the-Hill are found strangled and laid out clasping an Easter lily in their hands… Bruce’s books are pretty fairly clued, filled with wonderfully eccentric characters, and make for a nice cozy evening of reading. Lots of good British humor too.

Murder Gone Mad

Fast becoming one of my favourite blogs, Vintage Pop Fictions looked at Philip MacDonald’s Murder Gone Mad (1931)

Nothing exciting has ever happened in Holmdale Garden City in England until one day the residents discover to their horror that there is a maniac loose among them, a maniac who kills apparently without reason.That is of course the fatal weakness of the serial killer sub-genre – serial killers choose their victims randomly so the sorts of clues that usually lead fictional detectives to their quarry can no longer be depended upon. This leads to uninteresting plots that then need to be spiced up by lots of gory detail.

(I’ve been wondering when serial killers – or maniacs as they were described pre-1981 – began to appear in crime fiction – see my piece from last May. This is the earliest I have noted since I began to keep an eye open. I’d be interested to hear about other candidates.)

Stuart Palmer, creator of New York schoolteacher Hildegard Withers got a lot of exposure this month. Patrick At the Scene of the Crime reviews the first in the long-running series, The Penguin Pool Murder:

It was really a most exciting day for Miss Hildegarde Withers, schoolteacher extraordinaire. Taking her class to the New York Aquarium, she first helps to apprehend a pickpocket. Then she discovers that her hatpin has gone missing and a full-scale search is launched. And once the hatpin is found, something else is discovered… a man’s corpse floating in the penguin pool!

This looks like foul play, and unless you can come up with a theory involving homicidal penguins, then the group of human suspects conveniently assembled nearby will have to do.

The Puzzle Doctor also liked the Penguin Pool Murder:

There are some very interesting ideas going on which appear mostly in the second half of the book – so do keep reading. The second murder, in particular, is the cleverest part of the plot – although it does appear quite late in the narrative. What the book does suffer from is a distinct lack of suspects. I’m pretty sure most readers will spot the villain – who slips up with what is possibly the oldest trick in the book – but there are some good attempts at misdirection.

Finally, Les at Classic Mysteries urges us to read The Puzzle of the Happy Hooligan:

Stuart Palmer’s books remain wonderfully readable, in no small part because they are quite genuinely funny, and Hildegarde Withers and Inspector Piper make a first-rate odd couple of detectives. I do recommend The Puzzle of the Happy Hooligan as one of Palmer’s best.

And some honourable mentions

Reading 1900-1950: Mr Standfast by John Buchan (1919)

Reading 1900-1950: The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan (1915)

Clothes in Books: Greenshaw’s Folly by Agatha Christie (1956)

Confessions of a Mystery Novelist: Marie Belloc Lowndes’ The Lodger (1913)

Yet Another Crime Fiction Blog: Remembering Derek Raymond

Vulpes Libres: To the Heart of Rest (Dorothy L. Sayers’ Gaudy Night) (1935)

Pretty Sinister Books: Henry Cecil’s According to the Evidence (1954)

Only Detect: Frederick C. Davis’ Deep Lay the Dead (1942)

The Elmore Leonard theme at Pattinase’s Friday’s Forgotten Books

About pastoffences

Past Offences exists to review classic crime and mystery books, with ‘classic’ meaning books originally published before 1987.
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5 Responses to Digging a little deeper: June’s classic crime in the blogosphere

  1. Thanks for the mention! good roundup/.

    Like

  2. Rich – Thanks very much for this very helpful summing-up – and for including my post. Much appreciated.

    Like

  3. TracyK says:

    A great assortment of interesting links. I love that you do this. I haven’t even gotten to following up all the links (those that I had not already seen) yet. I just saw that Warner Brothers Archive Collection is putting out The Hildegarde Withers Mysteries Movies Collection. I had been hoping for that.

    Like

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