Reading wrap-up for July 2017

I’ve had a bit of a rest for a couple of months, during which my blog traffic has gone through the roof, which fact should probably teach me something about leaving well alone, but hasn’t. Here I am back with, if not a bang, a whimper. This is what I’ve been reading…


I’ve had a couple of John Rowland titles from the British Library on my shelves for a few years now. Murder in the Museum (1938) sees the pooterish Mr Henry Fairhurst assisting Scotland Yard’s hunt for the killer of three Shakespearean scholars. The later Calamity in Kent (1950) is another one for my collection of mysteries with massively improbable drug-smuggling methods. The worldly narrator, an experienced reporter for the London press, is inexplicably unfazed by someone bothering to ship drugs via spare car parts sold to innocent car mechanics. Both books start as mysteries but end up more like thrillers; not solid classics, but enjoyable.


Anthony Berkeley’s The Poisoned Chocolates Case (1929), another British Library title, is more secure in its place in the canon. A group of amateur criminologists, the Crime Circle, prove one another wrong as a succession of solutions to the murder of perfect wife Joan Bendix is proposed and nixed. In the spirit of DVD extras, this edition contains bonus additional solutions by Christianna Brand and BL series consultant Martin Edwards.


Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s The Pledge is, if nothing else, proof of the sudden and unlikely ubiquity of classic crime. Chances of finding a genre-subverting 1958 Swiss crime novel in a small Norfolk library three years ago: 0%. Last week: 0% too, but only because I’d borrowed it. Kudos to Pushkin Vertigo for reviving this one (maybe less kudos for the fake Scandi-noir cover). A bleak tale of a dogged investigator throwing away a promising career to catch a child murderer. Not for those of a sunny disposition.


Staying with downbeat realism, but moving closer to home, Peter Drax’s High Seas Murder (1939) is a gritty tale of piracy and murder in the less-than-glamorous setting of the North Sea fisheries and the shabby port town of Gilsboro. A cast of unsympathetic characters torment one another after a botched attempt to claim a ship as salvage – despite the inconvenient fact that the captain is still very much on board. Dean Street Press has reissued several of Drax’s novels with introductions by Curtis Evans, and I’d certainly recommend this one if you’re partial to Simenon.


Also read:

Scott Lynch’s The Lies of Locke Lamora is a fantasy/heist romp, Ocean’s Eleven with wizards. Locke Lamora is leader of the Gentleman Bastards, a gang of master criminals about to meet their match in the form of the Grey King, a serial killer of career criminals. Good fun, and because it’s a fantasy novel, there are another two in the series to enjoy.

China Miéville’s Railsea is a bonkers tale in the spirit of Moby Dick, but set in a future dystopia where people hunt enormous moles on an enormous ocean of railway. Oddly readable, & certainly memorable. & that’s just for the punctuation. Give it a go.

Deon Meyer’s Trackers is a book that’s been on my watch list since reading a review at Petrona back in 2011. Maxine said: ‘Deon Meyer just goes from strength to strength. I think this book may be the best thriller I’ve ever read.’ I can confirm that it is an excellent book, a breath of fresh air in terms of its South African setting and cast of spooks, smugglers and gangsters.

About pastoffences

Past Offences exists to review classic crime and mystery books, with ‘classic’ meaning books originally published before 1987.
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13 Responses to Reading wrap-up for July 2017

  1. Good to see you back, Rich.

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  2. Welcome back! And a nice selection of books. It would be so easy to just read nothing but BL books – I particularly loved the Berkeley.

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  3. Brad says:

    Whoo-hoo! Welcome back, Rich!

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  4. jasonhalf says:

    Welcome back! I quite enjoyed seeing this mix of reading titles. Very nice to see that you tried the philosopher and journalist (and crime writer to pay the bills) Durrenmatt; his very bruising yet comic stage play The Visit was a real inspiration for me as a playwright when I encountered it years ago. Last year I read The Judge and His Hangman and The Quarry, and found them both very rewarding, if not exactly joyful. It was quite entertaining to read the wildly varied Goodreads reviews for The Quarry, which confounded expectations by being a sort of anti-detective thriller. The Pledge would have been next up, but I’ve taken a little hiatus from Durrenmatt.

    I hope your previous months were restorative —- Jason

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  5. Lovely to see you back, Rich. And those are some fine reads, too. Glad you like Meyers as well as you do. He really is talented, I think.

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  6. tracybham says:

    I have not yet read The Pledge but I have a copy now and hope to soon. Have only read Deon Meyer’s first novel, Dead Before Dying, and want to read more. It is good that you are back. Hope you had a nice break.

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  7. JJ says:

    Good to see you back, Rich, hope you’ve had a good rest. I would have really enjoyed The Lies of Locke Lamora if it had been about 250 pages shorter — superb writing, but, dude, a real excess of all detail. But, well, that’s Fantasy for you: why use three words when a positive plethora of delights from the richly-filled vein that is the English language — full of witty allusions, catankerous delights, tristful contrasts, and the joys and perils of this crimson skein called life — will do the same job at the expense of your editor’s work/life balance?

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  8. Yay you’re back! You were definitely missed.

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  9. Nice to see you back, and glad you managed a nice selection of books.

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  10. Bev Hankins says:

    Glad you’re back! I was part of the blog-traffic…I kept peeking to see if you were back yet. Then I got sick with strep throat and it occurred to me that I hadn’t stopped by in a while. Good to see the Berkeley on your list.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Keishon says:

    I remember The Pledge being enjoyable. I remember the “surprise” plot twist was somewhat of a quiet yet devastating revelation.

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