Thanks very much to everyone who contributed to February’s challenge to read and review crime fiction from the year 1955. Apologies if I’ve missed anyone – this was a bumper crop or blog posts. 1955 seems to have been a varied year, with psychological suspense perhaps coming to the fore (The Talented Mr Ripley and Beast in View both appeared) but a strong ongoing tradition of puzzle mysteries.
The Puzzle Doctor chose 1955, and read locked-room master John Dickson Carr’s Captain Cut-Throat at In Search if the Classic Mystery Novel:
1805, Northern France, and Napoleon’s forces stand ready to cross the Channel and invade England. But here is dissention in the ranks as the night is patrolled by a shadowy figure, killing without a trace, leaving a note, signed Captain Cut-Throat, a man who can kill victims who stand in plain sight without being seen.
This was reading for a very good cause:
Book 10 for my attempt to read 10 books for Readathon UK – hey, I did it! I did it primarily to inspire some of my students to pick up a book, but if anyone wants to donate to the children’s charities that they support, then do pop over to this link. Every little helps.
Bev at My Reader’s Block got us started with Harold Kemp’s Death of a Dwarf, an obscure title concerning the murder of a dwarf in the village of Castle Ascombe, investigated by DI Jimmy Brent. Bev appeals for more information about Kemp and his series.
The story is quite good with a standard motive given a nice little twist. Fairly clued–it’s certainly not Kemp’s fault that I completely forgot a little tidbit that he prominently displayed for me back in the early chapters. Likeable characters–the interactions between Jimmy Brent and his superiors, colleagues, and underlings are delightful and supporting characters from the village are just as good (save for a few suspects…but then we’re not supposed to like them). There’s even a knowing little old lady calmly knitting in her little apartment–but none appear to be stock characters used purely for effect.
Kerrie over at Mysteries in Paradise read Margaret Millar’s Beast in View, noting:
As others have commented, this has a staggeringly modern feel to it. It also feels as if it has cinematographic qualities. There is an incredible twist in the tail which apparently is a characteristic of most of Margaret Millar’s novels.
Jose Ignacio also reviewed Beast in View at The Game’s Afoot, concluding:
Beast in View has been classified as a psychological thriller. The reader, sometimes, may find him (or herself) completely lost in relation to the unfolding of the events that will come next. But we must persevere, the effort will find its reward. It’s, definitely, a very well written story that provides an interesting view of the human psyche from its darkest side.
Moving on to the other classic title of 1955, Keishon at Yet Another Crime Fiction Blog looked at Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr Ripley:
This novel is very entertaining and very engaging. I fell into the story almost immediately and found it very hard to put down. I thought all the characters in the story were well drawn and the dialogue sounded realistic. There’s something to Highsmith’s writing that turns readers from casual observers and into being apart of the story. And she’s also one of those writers who makes you sympathetic and even makes you like her protagonists despite their criminality.
Rebecca at Ms Wordopolis Reads also reviewed The Talented Mr Ripley:
What most impressed me was the tone: I was in the head of one of the strangest characters I’ve read about, and it was profoundly disturbing and at times seemed utterly normal. I was also impressed that I didn’t grow bored of the rich-expatriates in southern-Europe storyline which I’ve found tiresome in other stories. Ripley is fascinating, and the pacing and the plotting he takes on were quite intricate.
John at Pretty Sinister Books also took on a suspense title, Anne Chamberlain’s debut novel The Tall Dark Man, noting it:
Anne Chamberlain’s debut novel The Tall Dark Man (1955) can barely be called a crime novel. Why this book was marketed as a cat and mouse thriller is beyond me. It’s not. Yes, there is a crime. But the story is one of those experimental psychological novels that used to flood the shelves in the 1950s. What makes it noteworthy is the voice of the protagonist — a 13 year old girl. And she is one troubled little girl.
Four more traditional titles now. Jose Ignacio at The Games’s Afoot read Margery Allingham’s The Beckoning Lady (which always seems like her most personal, but to me one of the least interesting of her books), and
…found the story of this ‘cosy mystery’, highly enjoyable and entertaining. The action takes place in an idyllic village and I believe that it reflects very well some aspects of the life in the fifties. The characters are pretty eccentric but quite funny. All in all, it is worth reading. And, no doubt, it will delight all genre aficionados, and in particular to Agatha Christie’s faithful followers.
Lucy at The Art of Words looked at Hickory Dickory Dock, noting that:
Christie always moved with the times. A mixed hostel was quite “advanced” for the 50s, though the male and female students live on different staircases. (The hostel is formed out of several townhouses knocked together.) The students all eat together in the evening – a meal cooked by an Italian couple – and have a communal sitting room. Even more daringly, students of all backgrounds mix. Not just the Indian students, the West African and the Jamaican (Elizabeth) with the others, but the working-class Len and the rather stuffy Scottish Colin with the more privileged Nigel, Sally and Valerie.
Noirish John reviewed Ngaio Marsh’s Scales of Justice, recalling his first encounter with the genre during a rain-ridden sojourn at a Scottish B&B:
I was most reluctant to read it. First of all, it wasn’t science fiction. Second, it was quite obviously far too old for me. I’d by this time probably encountered crime fiction before, in the form of Enid Blyton’s Famous Five and Secret Seven books, but that was about it. This was a book for grown-ups and it was in the wrong genre.
One wan look out the window at a gray and blurry world, and then with a sigh I got started…
Moira also read Scales of Justice, taking the Clothes in Books approach:
A young woman wears a full-skirted housecoat, while her stepmother wears a flame-coloured top over those tight velvet trousers. Just in the headwear department there’s a tasselled smoking-cap, hideous tweed fishing hats, and a solar topee*. Everyone wears tweeds at some point.
(A solar topee, which I have finally looked up, is one of those explorer’s hats.)
Bernadette at Reactions to Reading reacted to Norfolk writer Alan Hunter’s Gently Does It with pleasant surprise:
Perhaps low expectations are a good way to begin any reading experience because I did enjoy the book more than I thought I might, mostly due to the writing. Hunter, an antiquarian bookseller by trade, clearly loves language. Even his use of an adverb, and one not immediately associated with policing, for his protagonist’s surname indicates his love of wordplay. There’s a mild wit pervading the entire novel and the dialogue in particular is often delightful
And now for something intentionally less delightful, pulps, starting with Bev’s review of One Touch of Blood by Samm Sinclair Baker.
I knew exactly where I was from the moment I opened One Touch of Blood… Smack dab in the middle of a pulpy, fast-talking, B-movie-style crime novel with more mangled metaphors than the dames (the blondes, the redhead, AND the brunette) in this story have curves…and they have more curves than the winding road leading to the cliff-hanging house where the main murder takes place. Well, you get the idea.
Tracy at Bitter Tea read William Campbell Gault’s Ring Around Rosa, which was later retitled Murder in the Raw, the first in a series of novels featuring Brock Callahan, an ex-LA Ram football player, who becomes a private detective in Beverly Hills, California
In this first book in the series, Callahan has just started his PI business and still wonders if he has it in him to go back to a year or two more of football. Although he has some contacts with the police in the area, in general they give him a hard time. Brock is doing his best to be an honest detective and stay within the law.
Sergio at Tipping My Fedora picked up Ursula Curtiss’ The Deadly Climate, another sultry-looking title.
…. a superior mystery, though it ultimately has no intention of working its way out of its genre confines and so ticks all the boxes you would expect to be present. There is the isolated heroine in an isolated small town; the lone terrified witness who only the killer believes is not disturbed, who suspects absolutely everybody in turn; the climax in which the heroine is stalked around a dark and supposedly enemy-free house that proves anything but, saved at the very last second by a young suitor, leading to a hint of romance; but for all that, it still provides plenty of thrills and a pretty well-hidden villain too.
Sergio then took us up market with a look at Graham Greene’s ‘prescient and still under-regarded political mystery’ The Quiet American:
In my view this is unquestionably a detective story. The entire framework is told within a traditional mystery structure with Vigot pursuing suspects and unearthing physical clues (including in fact that great old standby, a crucial animal footprint) – and it even has a MacGuffin in the shape of a mysterious powder – Dialacton – which proves central to the plot when the motive for Pyle’s murder is ultimately revealed. This makes for a great example of having your cake and eating it – a serious novel about politics exploring major themes like death and religion but also a proper detective story with a surprise finish.
Negative review of the month award goes to Col’s Criminal Library for Chester Himes’ The End of a Primitive:
Well if anyone fancies a 1955 book which will rock you to the core, one that will thrill you, tease you, enthral you and have you hurrying to turn the pages, etc etc……it definitely won’t be this one.
Dull, awful, dire, boring and turgid……. that’s the highlights covered then!
(Sorry Col, I couldn’t find any 50s covers for this one, but perhaps you’d rather it was awarded a low profile)
Now to go multimedia.
New contributor John Hegenberger brought us a 1955 issue of World’s Finest Comics (I’ve been after a comic for ages – thanks John). This one features a silly-sounding Batman/Superman time-travel story featuring a flying carpet, and:
a Green Arrow adventure about the archer from across the sea. GA meets his match from an English crime-fighter called the Bowmaster and within six short pages we see the use of the handcuff arrow, the boomarang arrow, the boxing glove arrow, the rocket arrow, and many more…
Regular film correspondent John at Noirish seems to have watched every film screened in 1955 this month, well four of them anyway.
- The Shrike (pictured) sounds like the pick of the bunch, a study of a destructive marriage leading to incarceration in an asylum: ‘Direction, screenplay and Allyson’s fabulous rendition of the Shrike ensure this is an entirely gripping piece. Somehow it managed to receive no notable awards; viewed today it’s little short of astonishing.’
- Broadway Jungle ‘A movie to keep in mind should you ever discover you’ve run out of Ed Wood movies to watch.’
- Escapade: A comedy thriller that ‘isn’t a comedy and neither is it in any wise a thriller. Instead it’s a somewhat preachy moral fable’. This sounds like quite an odd little film – worth reading John’s review.
- Noirish biopic Wiretapper, which studies the fall and redemption of a low-level criminal.
So, what year shall we read in March? Over to you, dear reader (but not 1915, ’32, ’39, ’46, ’52, ’55, ’58, ’63 or ’71.)