Welcome to the round-up page for this month’s crime-fiction-of-the-year challenge. Thanks to everyone who contributed, and as usual I apologise in advance if I’ve missed your entry. I’m bound to have missed somebody.
Last month John at Pretty Sinister Books brought us the spookiest review and got to pick the focus year for November: 1946. We managed to pick a wide variety of crime fiction, from extremely cosy to extremely hard-boiled, from comic to tragic, and even a non-European title!
Lucy at The Art of Words came in first again this month, scoring an – ahem – hollow victory, with her review of Agatha Christie’s The Hollow.
Social reformers usually get rather brisk treatment in Christie’s books, and in 1946 they were seizing opportunities. Servants were a dying breed – [the butler] Gudgeon is a survival. More middle-class women had jobs, and had spent the war driving trucks, making aeroplane parts, nursing and working on the land. (Christie herself went back to her old job as a pharmacist.) The characters don’t seem too much bothered by shortages (in an early scene the Christows are sitting down to roast mutton, unobtainable during the war – and surely just after it?). I wonder when Christie planned and wrote this story?
Peggy Ann also looked at The Hollow, noting she was ‘convinced of the guilt of just about every character in it at some point or another and was fairly sure it was not who it was’.
Moira read Josephine Tey’s Miss Pym Disposes at Clothes in Books, noting a significant lack of 1946ness.
So how is it as a picture of 1946? Non-existent. In an entry on Jo Walton’s Farthing I mentioned a Tey-timing-problem regarding the same author’s Brat Farrar, and Miss Pym has the same issue – there is no mention of the war, and it is not clear whether it is set back in the 1930s, or around the time it was published – neither quite makes sense. I did not notice one thing in it that would key it to any date, though the lack of any mention of the war would place it firmly back in the 1930s.
Interesting about Brat Farrar. I completely missed the confused-chronology issue myself, but I have seen it argued that the obfuscation was deliberate. That’s right, I can spell obfuscation. Does the same apply to all of Tey’s novels?
Later in the month, Moira dressed down for Joan Coggin’s The Mystery at Orchard House, not an author I’ve heard of previously.
This one is about as cozy as it gets, and doesn’t contain much in the way or jeopardy or murder, but it IS a crime story – and very Golden Age at that. The sleuth is an Earl’s daughter, everyone is very class-conscious, and there is a list of characters at the beginning. All that is missing is a floor plan of the house.
Credentials as a 1946 book: completely non-existent. The book is set in some dreamworld of the 1930s, and there is no mention of the War.
The final British book this month was featured in my own review of Cyril Hare’s With a Bare Bodkin, which definitely bears all the hallmarks of a 1946 title, being set squarely in wartime. Hare’s series character Francis Pettigrew…
… is off to take up his war work – a position as legal advisor to the Pin Control in remote Marsett Bay. He enters a world of carbon transfer slips, PC52 forms, requisition notes, and a million other bureaucratic details, all overseen by the ‘female gorgon’ Miss Clarke and a horde of other minor officials.
Movie time. John at Noirish brought us a youthful Herbert Lom in noirish spy thriller Night Boat to Dublin, which revolves around Nazi agents, but found it a bit of a let-down despite a solid cast.
On paper, it should all have worked well, yet the resulting movie is stodgy and often confusing. Soon after the outset, we’re left puzzling as to why the information Jannings held was so confoundedly important if Military Intelligence already knew most of the details of how the Nazis were getting hold of the secrets.
The Puzzle Doctor over at In Search of the Classic Mystery Novel read Carter Dickson (aka John Dickson Carr)’s My Late Wives, a mystery featuring the larger-than-life Sir Henry Merrivale.
Written just after the war, there is a sense of London undergoing a recovery, especially in the opening sequences of the book. Merrivale makes his usual over-the-top entrance, this time causing a riot in a penny-arcade, but there is an over-arching feeling of near-horror at times and Carr wisely quickly makes this one of Merrivale’s more serious outings.
Pretty Sinister Books headed south for Where There’s Love, There’s Hate by Argentinian husband-and-wife team Adolfo Bioy Casares and Silvina Ocampo.
Casares and Ocampo have a lot of fun with detective novel tropes. Characters in disguise, a couple of false solutions before the truth is revealed and an abundance of clues all play out in the fast-paced and compactly told story.
I also spotted this one in the wild, at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings:
I have to say that WTLTH was an unexpectedly wonderful delight of a book! It was published in 1946, when the Golden Age of detective fiction was well established, and the authors are obviously hell-bent on sending up the genre as much as they can. Dr. Huberman comes across as a blend of Nero Wolfe and Hercule Poirot; he’s obsessed with routine and his meals, and often gives them much more importance than the actual investigation!
Tracy at Bitter Tea and Mystery read Murder Within Murder by Frances Lockridge, featuring husband-and-wife detectives Jerry and Pam North.
The couple reminded me of Nick and Nora Charles (of The Thin Man) in that they drink an awful lot of alcohol. Unlike Nick and Nora, they are not rich, but they do have a surprising amount of free time to follow their policeman friend around. Pam smokes a lot too. This surprised me only because where I grew up (the South) in the 1940s and 50s, it was unusual for women to smoke.
Bev at My Reader’s Block managed an effortlessly stylish hat-trick, by reading a Detective Book Club anthology. which combined Murder Within Murder, Hilda Lawrence’s The Pavilion, and Erle Stanley Gardner’s The D.A. Breaks a Seal:
It features Doug Selby who serves through most of the series as the District Attorney in fictional Madison City, California. The books follow him as he’s newly elected to the position until he enlists in the military as intelligence officer during World War II and then sees him back as the D.A. once the war ends.
It is said that Howard Hawks sent a telegram to Chandler in order to ask him who killed the Sternwood’s chauffeur. Chandler replied saying that he didn’t know. In any case, whether or not true, this anecdote reflects that some aspects of the plot can be confusing. But this should not prevent us from enjoying this wonderful film that Begoña and I have seen once again recently. A real classic that, in my view, is worth keeping to be seen as many times as we wish.
Coming in with my 1946 cover of the month (it’s A HANDI-BOOK Mystery!) Col’s Criminal Library looked at Norbert Dentressangle’s Oh Murderer Mine, featuring Doan and Carstairs (Doan is the investigator, Carstairs is his Great Dane; Humphrey is their police rival).
…an enjoyable read, more for its humour and the clashes between the incompetent Humphrey and Doan, and the almost jaded manner in which Doan could predict his actions in advance. There was a mystery to be solved and it was, and in a fairly cohesive fashion, though it almost seemed secondary to the knockabout tone of the book.
Finally, Jose Ignacio went all pulpy with Wade Miller’s Deadly Weapon, which contains a pretty hard sell in the blurb:
Her name was Shasta Lynn—a names as phony as the color of her golden hair. She was big and beautiful, and she knew how to tease when she stripped. She was so sensational no one noticed that an admirer in the last row wore a knife sticking in his heart. Curtains go up on a drama of murder, racketeering, dope-peddling, and double-dealing romance. And a smart San Diego cop calls the finale for one of the toughest killers ever to clear the stage for death.
So what will next month’s year be? Over to you, gentle reader. First one to name a year gets it*.
*But not ’32, ’39, ’46, ’52, ’58 or ’63.