Saturday, January 2, 2016


This delightful collection, from the Poisoned Pen Press' "British Library Crime Classics" series, is simply top-drawer stuff, with stories ranging from the Victorian age to the mid-20th century. Martin Edwards has put together a jewel box here.

It kicks off with one of Arthur Conan Doyle's non-Holmes horror/mystery stories, "The Case of Lady Sannox," an old familiar favorite for me, and then to an abridged version of a serialized story, "A Mystery of the Underground," about a serial killer stalking the subway. The author, John Oxenham (pen name of William Arthur Dunkerly), is almost forgotten today, but in its time the story was a sensation and actually caused a dip in Underground ridership.

Richard Marsh's "The Finchley Puzzle" is fun and interesting, yet utterly preposterous, while R. Austin Freeman's "The Magic Casket" is much more grounded....and yet even more interesting and exciting. You don't mess with Freeman. "The Holloway Flat Tragedy" by Ernest Bramah is him at his best, writing about blind sleuth Max Carrados. I'm not a fan of Bramah; I read his first book of Carrados stories, hailed as classics of detection, and found them poorly written and unengaging, but this story was pretty good.

"The Magician of Cannon Street" by J. S. Fletcher is different from the rest, not quite a straightforward crime-and-detection story, and because it's so different it makes me want to look into Fletcher's work more. Edgar Wallace's "The Stealer of Marble" is a rather good story, impressive as it comes from an author infamous for cranking out stories at an amazing and rapid pace, and often tone-deaf as to quality. Up next, "The Tea Leaf", by Robert Eustace and Edgar Jepson, is a minor classic and a darned good read.

Thomas Burke's "The Hands of Mr. Ottermole" is good melodrama and a fun read, if slightly overwrought, and an example of another author with uneven output. "The Little House" is a great story by H. C. Bailey, an author I've recently discovered, who wrote a very highly-regarded series around medical detective Reggie Fortune. (And everything I've read so far is just delightful.) Hugh Walpole's "The Silver Mask" is a classic cruel tale, and actually pretty unsettling.

"Wind in the East" by Henry Wade is a good police procedural, but the real jewel of this collection is "The Avenging Chance" by Anthony Berkeley. This story is a genuine classic. Inspired by the real-life Christiana Edmunds case (and even mentioning it), a women is poisoned by fatal chocolates. The twist? The box had been sent to someone else and when the recipient wasn't interested, a friend took it home, so its seems as if the wrong person died. The real solution is pretty devious....and the story was later expanded into a novel, "The Poisoned Chocolates Case," which has a different solution.

"They Don't Wear Labels" is a darkly subtle tale from an author better known as a humorist, E. M. Delafield, author of "Diary of a Provincial Lady". Margery Allingham's "The Unseen Door" is a short-short with her series detective, Albert Campion. "Cheese," by Ethel Lina White, is a wryly humorous suspenser from the author whose work inspired the films "The Lady Vanishes" and
"The Spiral Staircase." And winding it up is "You Can't Hang Twice" by Anthony Gilbert, in which a not-always-ethical (but still battling for the right) lawyer plays cat-and-mouse with a murderer in the London fog.

I can't speak highly enough of this collection; this is a great candybox of some of the best British crime writing out there, and a good way of being introduced to some of the best Golden Age detectives. This is a recent issue, still out there in bookstores and available in libraries. Required Reading.

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