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Monday, August 28, 2023

Mystery Series - Albert Campion

Margery Allingham (Fair Use) Margery Allingham (Fair Use)
Margery Allingham, 1904-1966, is considered one of the top four female mystery writers of the Golden Age of Mysteries (1920s and 1930s). Her primary detective is Albert Campion, an odd character who may have been purposly developed to be the exact opposite of Sayers Lord Peter Wimsey. The first of these books was written when Allingham was only 23. Campion is tall and thin, wiry and toothy, with an overbite and a receeding chin. He doesn't appear to be mentally competent, let alone intimidating. In short, I find him hilarious.

Campion matures over the course of the series, but in the beginning one is not sure whether he's a freelance adventurer, a crook, or a police agent. He appears to be a man-for-hire to do any sort of dangerous task. There's a hint that he's the younger son of a famous British family.

This is a British series, and some of the books use a fair amount of period Brit slang that is a bit incomprehensible, but one can usually figure it out.

Overall, I give this series 5 stars. I like it that each of the books is quite different from the others. They are not formulaic. Allingham's understanding of human nature is excellent. The characters have real and unique personalities.

The collection of stories, The Return of Mr. Campion, includes a tongue in cheek biography of Campion by Margery Allingham. She also explains how he came to be in her books.

The dates of most of the short stories are uncertain, but I've tried to place them in the generally correct era.

Recurring Characters of Note:
Albert Campion
Magersfontein Lugg, his servant/companion
Inspector (becoming Superintendant) Stanislaus Oates, Scotland Yard
Lady Amanda Fitton
Captain Charles Luke, Scotland Yard

#1 The Crime at Black Dudley/The Black Dudley Murder (US title), 1929
This first in the series is told mostly from the point of view of George Abbershaw, a medical examiner who occasionally does work for Scotland Yard. He has wrangled an invitation to a party because the girl he thinks he's in love with is going to be there. The party is in a huge old castle of a house in the middle of nowhere. The guests are mostly young people except for an uncle of the young owner, Wyatt. The uncle was a war veteran and wears a mask to hide his disfigured face. There are also two other silent and hulking men in the party.

The young host tells a tale from the family history involving an ancient dagger and a game played in the dark. Everyone wants to play. During the 15 minutes of darkness, the uncle dies of an apparent heart attack.

Following this, the two strangers take over the house and demand the return of some papers that also went missing during the game.

This story is extremely well done. The old house has everything it should-- secret passages and rooms, no electricity, a remote location. There is a continual challenge for the reader to figure out what is really going on underneath what the characters say. There is the romance of George and Meggie.

The figure of Campion is introduced, although he's not a major character. Following this book, the public wanted more of this strange little man, and Allingham complied.

#2 Mystery Mile, (1930)
Mystery Mile is the name of a village out on the salt flats of a peninsula. The "mystery mile" is a bank of fog that always fills a long valley, rendering it dangerous at various stages of the tide.

Campion is friends with the owners of the manor house, and takes it upon himself to "hide" an American judge there whom the criminal mob is trying to kill, or at least warn off. The American has a son and daughter who get along famously with the young man and his sister who own the manor house.

But somone is still stalking the judge. A completely annoying art dealer is trying to buy one of the family paintings, and an itinerant fortune teller shows up for an evening of amusement. The vicar commits suicide. Then the judge completely disappears!

(It's hard to believe that Allingham was only in her 20s when these first few books were written. She gets the young people right, but she also gets all the characters right.)

#3 Look to the Lady/The Gyrth Chalice Mystery (US title), 1931
This book is brimming with all sorts of British midaeval traditions, a tower with a secret door, faeries, monsters, and witches. Or maybe not!

Campion has now stopped taking any sort of cheap assignment he can find. An uncle has left him money, and he is now free to choose the sorts of jobs he likes. The assignment this time is to protect a chalice that was supposedly made before 1066 AD that has been entrusted to the care of the Gyrth family throughout British history. Campion befriends "Val," Percival Gyrth who will be inducted into the family secrets surrounding the chalice on his upcoming 25th birthday.

Meanwhile, his aunt has decided to take on her role as "Maid of the Cup," an assignment that has been downplayed in recent years. She shows the chalice in public, much to the embarrassement of the family. Organized crime is trying to steal the chalice and is currying favor with Aunt Di.

Several days later, she is found dead in the faerie ground, apparently having died of fright at seeing something dreadful. Then Campion's servant sees it too!

This is a wonderfully improbable plot, but it's enticingly easy to believe in old legends.

#4 Police at the Funeral, 1931
Campion now calls himself a Deputy Adventurer. He agrees to meet a young woman as a favor to a friend to discuss the disappearance of one of her uncles and gets sucked into one of the most dysfunctional families you can imagine. Great-Aunt Caroline rules the collection of close and distant relatives with an iron hand, and she can get away with it since she supports them all.

Members of this family group begin to die, and it really looks as if one of the other persons in the family is doing the killings.

Short #1 The Hat Trick, date uncertain but September 17 was a Wednesday, so it must be either 1932 or 1941 (because of leap year there was no such combination between these). Since Albert is not married, it must be 1932. In the collection Mr. Campion and Others
Campion is given a small onyx pocket charm of a top hat. When he accidentally displays this item, he receives deferential treatment and is considered a special person. He tries the charm in several other places with the same effect. What is going on?

Short #2 The White Elephant, date uncertain but Oates is still an Inspector. In the collection Mr. Campion and Others
A girl who is a friend of Campion's is gossipping about some recent robberies taking place among her smart friends' families. The hired man has a record and he is sent to work for the girl's boyfriend's aunt who has a big charity event called the White Elephant each year.

Short #3 The Old Man in the Window, date uncertain but Inspector Oates is promoted to Superintendant. In the collection Mr. Campion and Others
At Oates celebration of becoming inspector he becomes drunk. There is an embarrassing scene with several people Campion knows while an engagement is broken. Oates predicts that there will be serious consequences of the actions they witness.

#5 Sweet Danger/Kingdom of Death/FearSign (US titles), 1933
This book has everything expected of a Brit mystery from the "transitional" time period. To me, that means the changes from the older, days of earls ruling over areas from a mansion with its accompanying village and days of hard beliefs in the supernatural to the more modern concepts of freedoms for women and scientific methods.

The line of the Earl of Averna has apparently ended, yet the humble Hal, whose family runs the near-defunct mill, believes he is the rightful heir, but no one can prove that his father actually married his mother before going off to World War I and losing his life. Albert and friends set about to find the items mentioned in a riddle which will restore the earldom, but some shady characters are also hard on the trail for reasons of their own. The local doctor also has an agenda that doesn't suit anyone.

Young Amanda, Hal's sister, shows tremendous spunk and wins Albert's admiration. The bad guy meets a classic fate.

Short #4 (The Case of) The Man with the Sack, date uncertain but it appears to be while Campion was still quite young, in the collections Allingham Minibus and My Friend Mr. Campion
Campion is urged by a young friend to come spend Christmas with her family. The boy she loves is there, although his father is in jail. There is also a family that are friends of her mother, although they don't seem to fit in very well. The situation is tense, and in the midst of a children's Christmas party, a theft occurs.

Short #5 The Widow, date uncertain but it appears to be while Campion was still quite young, in the collection Mr. Campion and Others
Superintendant Oates has been trying to find proof of crime against a known criminal for some time. Campion is called to stand in for a wine seller at an important business meeting where he and other men in the same business are shown a remarkable scientific experiment.

#6 Death of a Ghost, 1934
The famous painter, John Lafcadio, died several years ago, but he has left a series of painting to be unveiled, one per year, to keep his name in the public eye, and to boost the value of his works.

His family and friends are the eclectic bunch you would expect of an artist. The widow is a holdout for an earlier generation, although she still manages to function as the matriarch. In her household live the former "inspiration," Beatrice, a woman of shocking honesty who sees auras around people, the granddaughter, a young artist herself who was planning to marry another young artist. However, he married an Italian woman, only for convenience, so he could get her into the country to be his model.

There is also the man who used to mix the master's paints and his wife, who more or less serve the family but are also somewhat independent.

The other major character is Max Fustian, who is the man left in charge of the yearly presentations of the Lafcadio paintings.

The lights go out, and one of the players is stabbed. Max confesses, but things are not as they seem.

The fate of the guilty party is a classic cop-out, but then... I've used it myself. It is classic, after all.

#7 Flowers for the Judge/Legacy in Blood (US title), 1936
This is not one of my favorites of the series.

The story revolves around a family publishing business which is now run by one son and several grandsons of the founder. The other son disappeared years ago and has never been found. One of the grandsons dies, and it is soon revealed to be murder. His cousin is arrested because of his friendship with the dead man's wife.

The story is a bit far-fetched, but I could live with that if the ending were more complete. It didn't seem to me that it was clearly established who the actual guilty party was. I guess you could say that Allingham has confidence in the intelligence of the reader, but I found it unsatisfactory.

Short #6My Friend Mr. Campion, 1935, in the collection My Friend Mr. Campion
This is the transcript of a monologue given by Allingham explaining how Albert Campion came to be in her books. Humouous

#8 The Case of the Late Pig, 1937
On the very morning of reading a funeral notice for a schoolmate, Albert Campion receives an anoymous note about this same person. The schoolmate was not well liked, in fact his nickname was Pig. Campion attends the uneventful funeral and forgets all about it.

Six months later, the same man appears to die again, and not by accident. However, it is quickly determined that this man is Pig's brother. These two deaths can't be coincidence. Then the brother's body disappears!

This story is told by Albert in the first person. This is not as good a read as some of the others. .

#9 Dancers in Mourning/ Who Killed Chloe? (US title), 1937
Allingham is back to full, excellent form in this story. The main characters are mostly members of a stage troupe of a highly successful musical. Members of the cast, the producer, the songwriter/musician, and family members are all staying at the country home of Jimmy Sutane, the star. A worn-out dancer shows up and is mysteriously allowed a dance number in the 300th performance of the musical. She also comes to the house to stay. Jimmy claims to have not previously known her, but she says they are old friends. Then people start dying.

Murders set among theater people are always good because you can't tell who is acting oddly and who is simply being an eccentric thespian.

Campion's "Uncle William's" patently fictional memoirs served as the inspiration for the musical, so Campion becomes involved with the group, but he doesn't like the solution he is forced to arrive at.

And, incidentally, Albert falls in love!

Short #7The Definite Article, around 1937, in the collection Mr. Campion and Others
This story is very similar to The Black Tent. Campion takes on a seemingly impossible case to find a blackmailer. The funniest part is that he was driven to seek out Oates to get away from an old lady gossip who simply won't shut up.

Short #8 The Black Tent, 1937, in the collection The Return of Mr. Campion
Despite being written in 1937, this story did not appear in original form until this collection was published in 1987. Shorter, reworked versions under the title "Definite Article" were published earlier.
Campion sees a teenage girl sneaking something out of a dresser. He is later approached by an American to help him find a man who drove his wife to suicide through blackmail. Albert sees a connection.

Short #9The Case is Altered, 1938, in the collection The Return of Mr. Campion, and also The Bedside Book of Murder
Campion is traveling to a party with acquaintances of his on a train. One who is a friend receives a note, he supposes from a pretty girl, to meet him late in the evening. Meanwhile, Campion finds some intereting papers.

Short #10Safe as Houses, 1938, in the collection Mr. Campion and Others
Campion's Great Aunt Charlotte is insisting that someone was in her house while she was away, although nothing was taken. Instead there is a stack of writing-paper bearing an address that does not exist. She wants Albert to figure out what happened. Then a young woman shows up asking for the same non-existent address.

#10 The Fashion in Shrouds, 1938
This is another excellent addition to the series. This time, the fashion industry is the setting for the story, and Albert's sister is involved, not always looking squeaky-clean when it comes to behavior.

One of the models. Georgia, begins carrying-on with a man who is not her husband. But the husband, not to be so easily put off, finds another model who looks strikingly like his wife, pays for designer dresses to match his wife's and parades her around town. The second time he does this, he takes her to the club where his wife is dancing with her new interest!

Albert has come to be entiwined in this matter only because a former boyfriend of Georgia's had disappeared three years ago. His body had recently been found, and the death was a suicide. The man's father has hired Albert to try to discover why his son did this.

People begin to realize that the boyfriend disappeared after Georgia started dating her current husband. And now, the husband may become inconvenient. Is he in danger?

Albert marries Amanda Fitton.

Short #1q The Dog Day, 1939, in the collection The Return of Mr. Campion, and also Circumstancial Evidence
Campion overhears a conversation on a beach and notices the somewhat unusual dog.

Short #12 The Name on the Wrapper, date uncertain but Campion is said to be 35, and is still single, in the collection Mr. Campion and Others
Campion comes upon an overturned car that has been abandoned. He finds a lady's ring in the road nearby. The police arrive and think that Campion has stolen the car! As it turns out, there was a jewelry heist at a nearby party the night before. Campion neatly solves the problem. For a short story, this has a nice twist in it.

Short #13 The Frenchman's Gloves, date unknown, in the collection Mr. Campion and Others
Date uncertain, but Oates is already a Superintendant, so it also has to be in the middle years.
A French jewel broker comes to London to meet the parents of his potential son-in-law. However, after checking into the hotel he disappears.

Short #14 The Longer View, date unknown, in the collection Mr. Campion and Others
Date uncertain, but Oates is already a Superintendant, so it also has to be in the middle years.
Campion and a friend end up exploring a derelict building where the friend used to live. In a large closet they find very recent writing, in lipstick, saying "O Let Me Out" written over and over around the walls.

Short #15The Meaning of the Act, date unknown, in the collection Mr. Campion and Others
This is another espionage tale, beginning with the lady friend of Campion's chum Lance becoming concerned that her uncle is suddenly traveling all over England to see a somewhat sleazy dance act wherever it is performed.

Short #16A Matter of Form, date unknown, in the collection Mr. Campion and Others
Oates and Campion are enjoying a drink together when Oates spots a known crook at the bar. The man is tipsy and brags perhaps a bit too much to Oates.

Short #17The Danger Point, date unknown, in the collection Mr. Campion and Others
Campion is at a dinner party given by his godmother. A young man he knows is carefully watching his girlfriend whose company is being dominated by an older man. However, the emotion Campion detects is not jealousy, but fear.

#11 Traitor's Purse/The Sabotage Murder Mystery (US title), 1941
Set in war time, this book involves espionage and national crimes. Other than that, I don't want to say too much because even telling the very beginning gives away some of the suspense.

It is a very unusual trope for a mystery. In fact, I had not encountered a book quite like this before. I tried to look it up, and may have found a few other titles with a similar technique employed. I may have to read a couple of them to compare.

One thing I can say is that if you are a lover of books with passages in caves under mountains, you will like this book.

Short #18 Mr. Campion's Lucky Day, date unknown, in the collection The Allingham Minibus
Although I could not find a known date for this story, Campion and Inspector Oates are named as great friends, so it has to be in the middle years. This is a very short story.
The inspector is called to a murder scene. Campion is with him, and although a man who is a very likely suspect is on the premises, he has a certain alibi for the time of death. The dead man played the horses, and was likely a blackmailer, although Oates has no proof of that. The doctor who lives upstairs found him dead at ten o'clock. Within a very few minutes, Campion solves the crime by logic.

Short #19 The Question Mark, date uncertain but Campion is still unmarried and taking young ladies to lunch, but he is friends with Oates. In the collection Mr. Campion and Others
A young lady who is a friend of Campion's has hired the boyfriend of her maid to play at being a detective. She thinks this is the cheapest way to keep him occupied until her maid tires of him. Her motive is to keep the maid. However, the "detective" uncovers the loot from a major heist of heirloom silver.

Short #20 The Unseen Door, date unknown, in the collection The Allingham Minibus
Although I could not find a known date for this story, Campion and Inspector Oates are named as great friends, so it also has to be in the middle years. This is another very short story.
Oates calls in Campion to help him solve what appears to be a closed-door mystery. There is the body of a man who was the informant in a huge scandal several years earlier. The man he testified against was just released from prison, but no one has been in or out of the club building where the murder took place except the doorman and a small cripple, both too old and frail to have strangled the man. Campion's logic to the rescue again.

#12 Coroner's Pidgin/Pearls Before Swine (US title), 1945
I have to say that I don't understand the British title of this book. Pidgin has only one meaning that I can find, which is just what I thought- it's a simplified version of a language used by people who need to be able to understand each other. OK, there was a scene at the end where the coroner managed to keep the inquest moving by being very vague, but it seemed like this was pretty minor to the plot.

This book is also set in war-time London, and gives an interesting insight into the mentality of the young people of the era in contrast to the older generation. Young adults took the attitude that one had to live right now, because you might not be alive in ten mintues. However, the upper class of the previous eras were still determined to keep the social heirarchy intact.

The basic story has to do with ways in which so many art and cultural treasures ended up in the hands of the Nazis. Campion has just come home from an implied long-term assignment doing espionage. He is looking forward to a long leave and some relaxation. However, within minutes of his arrival he is thrown into a new mystery, coshed and dumped in an alley!

#13 More Work for the Undertaker, 1948
I found this book difficult to follow because there is so much period slang in it that I often could not follow the dialog even through context. But the plot is cunningly complex and satisfactory.

Campion is summoned by his friend Lugg to come to Apron Street and figure out what's been going on in an old estate. It's an ancient London neighborhood with alleys and mews, shops, and one grand home. That family was in its heyday in the 1890s and would like the world to remain as it was then. However, it's now just post-WWII and the world has changed considerably. The house is lived in by a group of adult siblings. The family has fallen on hard times, and there is very little money left. One brother dies of a stroke, and then a sister dies of poison. Suicide is believed until the chemist's report comes in. Will the exhume the brother?

The youngest sister is eccentric, always brewing up natural concoctions with herbs she finds in the park. The housekeeper has some strange hold over the family. And a neice keeps sneaking out over the rooftops to visit with her boyfriend.

Amid all this mayhem, the undertaker across the street seems to have something going on the side, but no one can figure out what. And the old, private bank at the other end of the street is also committed to keeping things as they were a half-century earlier.

#14 The Tiger in the Smoke, 1952
One of the things I like about this series is that the characters age. Although Campion is probably not twenty years older than in the first book of the series, he is certainly no longer the young adventurer with total confidence in his own abilities. He's now usually working with the police. This story touches his own family.

Meg, a young cousin of his, a war widow, is engaged to marry a man who is very much in love with her, and she with him. Then, suddenly, she begins receiving notes that report sightings of first husband. His body had not been found, but he had been listing as missing in action. She is dismayed. Her fiance does not know quite how to react, but discovers that he is intensly jealous.

Then grainy photographs are sent with the notes. They look very much like her husband. The police decide to trap this man and discover if he is an impersonator. But this is all in the very beginning of the book. What is going on?

Adding to the mystery is a two-day London fog that covers everything with a gray and yellow pall. The descriptions are perfect. A band of disabled veterans who live on the streets and care for each other provide a grotesque but realistic element of suspense.

Of course, Allingham manages to connect the story back to pre-war lifestyles and values with ease.

#15 The Beckoning Lady/The Estate of the Beckoning Lady (US title), 1955
The Beckoning Lady is the name of a pub in the region where Campion grew up. He and Amanda have returned to the area for a Midsummer's Party at the home of friends. This is the first book in which their son, Rupert, gets more than a passing mention.

The party takes place not long after the non-unexpected death of Campion's "Uncle" William. There are a lot of characters to keep straight in this story which adds to the general confusion.

However, the primary mystery in the story is the murder of a man who is introduced in Chapter 1 as he is hit over the head and falls off a bridge. However, his body is not found, and his identity is not revealed until later in the book.

As usual, Allignham manages to make each of her books different from the others, a feature I really like. And the solution to the crime? It's wrapped up nice and neathly.

Short #21 The Curious Affair in Nut Row, 1955, in the collection The Return of Mr. Campion

#16 Hide My Eyes/Tether's End/Ten were Missing (US titles), 1958
This is an astonishingly timely trip into the mind of a serial killer. Despite the setting in a pocket of decaying pre-war London, the reader sees the events either through the eyes of the criminal himself or the man who spends most of a day with him and smells a rat.
Campion is part of the audience as Detective Luke reminisces about a case he had solved years before. The man who lives in an attic above the Society of Marine Research reports to the police that Martians have been landing on the roof and coming up the stairs.

Short #22 What to Do with an Aging Detective, 1958, in the collection The Return of Mr. Campion
This is a tongue-in-cheek interview between the author and Campion, and then his "man," Magersfontein Lugg.

Campion is involved in the solution, but his role is relatively minor.

#17 The China Governess, 1962
Unlike some authors, Allingham's stories seem to improve as she ages. This is another excellent entry in the Campion series. One of Allingham's standard sources of tension is the difference between the way the world was perceived by an older generation and the way young people want to live. In the pre-World War stories, the older generation wants the class system and the Victorian formality to contine with ramifications of every action rippling down through decades, while the unsettled world of the young made them want to live life in the moment because the whole country might be blown up the next day.

In this story, the young adults are the babies born to that generation who seized the present. In fact, the bones of this plot are based on the fact that many babies born in the early days of the bombings in Britain had no papers, or the wrong papers. Some of them were lucky to be alive and to have been cared for by any decent family. And yet, that stodgy British protection of family decency still lingers and haunts.

Basically, a young man who want to marry his underage love is shocked that her father will not give permission until he can prove who he is genetically, not just the adopted son of the prestigious family who has raised him. However, that family has more skeletons in the closet than just the young man's credentials.

#18 The Mind Readers, 1965
This is a straight-up cold war espionage tale, a very interesting twist on the collection of Campion stories.

the series was continued by other authors, and there are a number of short stories to be added to the list.

Mystery Series- Lord Peter Wimsey

alt text Dorothy L. Sayers (Fair Use)
Dorothy L. Sayers, 1893-1957, is considered one of the top four female mystery writers of the Golden Age of Mysteries (1920s and 1930s). Her primary detective is Lord Peter Wimsey, an English gentleman who likes to solve mysteries as a hobby.

A number of the Wimsey tales are short stories, which by design are much simpler than novels. Such stories are so noted below.

Of the Golden Age detectives, Lord Peter is my least favorite. But you may not agree.

Recurring Characters of Note:
Lord Peter Wimsey
Mervyn Bunter, his batman
Charles Parker, his brother-in-law
Harriet Vane

#1 Whose Body?, 1923

#2 Clouds of Witness, 1926

#3 Unnatural Death/ The Dawson Pedigree (US title), 1927

Lord Peter Views the Body, 1928, short story collection

The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, 1928

Strong Poison, 1930

The Five Red Herrings, 1931

Have His Carcase, 1932

Hangman's Holiday, 1933, short story collection

Murder Must Advertise, 1933

The Nine Tailors, 1934

Gaudy Night, 1935

Busman's Honeymoon, 1937

In the Teeth of the Evidence, 1940, short story in the collection of the same name
Lord Peter is visiting his dentist when the man is summoned to examine the teeth of a corpse for identification purposes. Of course, Wimsey envigles his way into the scene. The identification appears to be straightforward.

Absolutely Elsewhere, 1940, short story in the collection In the Teeth of the Evidence
Wimsey's brother-in-law, detective Parker has asked him to help with a crime where all the good suspects were elsewhere at the time. An unpleasant and financially tight-fisted man is found murdered at the dinner table. Phone conversations place the man's nephews miles away. There is a man waiting in the library who might like to kill him. There is the butler and the cook. The solution of this mystery depends upon an understanding of the technology of the time period.

Striding Folly, 1972, short stories collected posthumously

Lord Peter, 1972, short stories collected posthumously

Thrones, Dominations, 1998 published posthumously and completed by Jill Paton Walsh

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Mystery Series - Roderick Alleyn

alt text Ngaio Marsh
(Edith) Ngaio Marsh was a New Zealand writer in the golden age of crime fiction. She is considered one of the top four of the era (with Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, Margery Allingham). She lived from 1895-1982.

In my opinion she's in the running for the best of the lot. Her forte is collecting a large cast of characters with relationships, animosities and ulterior motives. She usually has scenes with rooms filled with people, and the reader must pay close attention to who is saying what to whom in order to have a glimmer of the solution to the crime.

Inspector Alleyn is the police presence in all her mysteries. All but four of the books are set in England. The others are in New Zealand.

Recurring Characters of note:
Inspector (becoming Chief Inspector) Roderick Alleyn
Agatha Troy, his wife
Inspector Fox, his assistant

#1 A Man Lay Dead, 1934

#1 Enter a Murderer, 1935

#1 The Nursing Home Murder, 1935

#1 Death in Ecstasy, 1936

#1 Vintage Murder, 1937

#1 Artists in Crime, 1938

#1 Death in a White Tie, 1938

#1 Overture to Death, 1939

#1 Death at the Bar, 1940

#1 Surfeit of Lampreys/ Death of a Peer (US title), 1941
The Charles Lampreys are a family whose immediate head, Charles, is the younger brother of a peer, George. Consequently, he keeps going through money in the way he's been accustomed to live, but George is the one who inherited the family fortune. Several times, the Charles Lampreys have needed to be bailed out of financial hardship by George. Now George says (apparently), "no more."

The family is a lively bunch, currently living in a double apartment in England (after we first meet them in New Zealand). There are a pair of twins who have spent their lives joking/lying about which is which. The oldest daughter is an actress, and two younger children round out the group. Their favorite passtime is playing charades and they keep a large closet full of props and costumes. Of course there are servants.

George angrily visits after the next request for funds, but he is found in the elevator, seriously wounded by one of the famous props.

This is one of the best examples of Marsh's ability to confuse everything with a huge group of people who are experts at play-acting, and the twins make it even more complex.

#1 Death and the Dancing Footman, 1941

#1 Colour Scheme, 1943

#1 Died in the Wool, 1945

#1 Final Curtain, 1947

#1 Swing Brother Swing/ A Wreath for Rivera (US title), 1949

#1 Opening Night, 1951

#1 Spinsters in Jeopardy/ The Bride of Death (US abridged version), 1953

#1 Scales of Justice, 1955

#1 Off With His Head/ Death of a Fool, 1956

#1 Singing in the Shrouds, 1958

#1 False Scent, 1959

#1 Hand in Glove, 1962

#1 Dead Water, 1963

#1 Death at the Dolphin/ Killer Dolphin (US title), 1966

#1 Clutch of Constables, 1968

#1 When in Rome, 1970

#1 Tied Up in Tinsel, 1972

#1 Black As He's Painted, 1974

#1 Last Ditch, 1977

#1 Grave Mistake, 1978

#1 Photo Finish, 1980

#1 Light Thickens, 1982

Mystery Series - Roger Sheringham

alt text Anthony Berkeley Cox (public domain)
Anthony Berkely Cox was an early writer in the golden age of mysteries. His first book, The Layton Court Mystery, was published in 1925. He was one of the founders of the Detection Club, a group to which most of the famous authors of this period belonged, including Agatha Christie. The last Sheringham story was written in 1943. He wrote several non-series books under the name Frances Iles.

I had to ask myself why I had never heard of this author. And I still don't know the answer to that, except that his stories have not retained the popularity of Christie or Dorothy Sayers, for example. I've learned that he wrote ten books and a number of short stories featuring Roger Sheringham, amateur detective. At least one of these, The Poisoned Chocolates Case, is considered a classic.

One of the things I like best about this series is that they are not formulaic. Berkeley manages to find a different way to tell a story in almost every book. One of the things I like least is that the solving of the case is done largely by discussion of the facts, evidence, suggestions, and possibilities. There isn't a lot of action, although this improves as the series continues. To be honest, this type of story was a novelty in the 1920s, and much more exciting than it seems today in our age of "show don't tell."

Berkeley's strong point is the ability to pose as many different solutions to a mystery as there are people on the scene. He builds a strong logical case against every suspect. His weak point is open prejudice against Jews. I guess you'd have to say that this comes from his characters, but since it's not essential to the plot, it seems likely to reflect the opinion of the author.

Berkeley was only 32 when the first book was published. His characters are largely young adults, and readers who love Brit expressions and slang will have their wishes satisfied. Due to his talent for spinning multiple scenarios, the reader is always kept guessing until late in the stories.

Another amusing aspect of the books is that Sheringham's occupation is that of a writer of detective stories. He continually pokes fun at writers of detective stories, with perfect dry English wit.

Sheringham's character is that of a clever sleuth but one who thinks a bit more of himself than he should.

Although the writing style is dated, these books are a fascinating look into the time period of transition from the Victorian standards to "modern" lifestyles. It's also interesting to note how scientific police methods already were by that time, although obviously the technology was less advanced. They also provide a study of the evolution of detective novels.

Recurring characters of note:
Roger Sheringham: writer of mysteries and amateur sleuth
Chief Inspector Moresby of Scotland Yard: Sheringham's sometimes nemesis and sometimes friend

The Roger Sheringham Books/Stories

#1 The Layton Court Mystery, 1925
This is an early example of a locked-room mystery. An eclectic group of people are invited to the home of XXX. In the morning, their host's body is discovered in the library, with all doors and windows locked. He obviously committed suicide. Or did he? Of course Roger Sheringham doesn't agree with the police. For a first book, this is fine, although obviously the writer is less experienced. The mystery is solved almost entirely through discussion between Sheringham and a friend of his who becomes his "Watson."

#2 The Wychford Poisoning Case, 1926

#3 Roger Sherringham and the Vane Mysteries/ At Lover's Cave (US title), 1927

#4 The Silk Stocking Murders, 1928

#4 The Poisoned Chocolates, 1929

#5 The Top Storey Murder, 1931
A murder occurs in an apartment on the top floor of a house with eight units. It appears to be a robbery gone bad, as the victim was a woman who was rumored to hate banks and to have a small fortune hidden in her rooms. The police have their scientific theory, and Roger Sheringham has his psychological theory. This is a recurring theme of the series. It's impossible to tell which solution is the correct one until the very end.

#6 Murder in the Basement, 1932
In modern definitions, I would call this one a police procedural. Sheringham's role in intermittent, although he is the one who solves the mystery in the end. The badly decomposed body of a young woman is found under the floor in the basement of a house purchased by a newlywed couple. Inspector M applies all the power of police investigation to the problem, but there is little actual evidence pointing to anyone. The victim can not even be identified for several months. Hard work and luck eventually produce that bit of information. The Inspector calls on Sheringham to provide some psychological insights since he had briefly worked in the same place as the murdered girl. In response, Sheringham gives the Inspector a copy of a "novel" he has been working on which features the key suspects, giving insights into their personalities. Cold evidence and the application of psychology vie for top honors in reaching the solution.

#7 Jumping Jenny/ The Dead Mrs. Stratton (US title), 1933
This begins with a tongue-in-cheeck biography of Roger Sheringham. One can't help but wonder if it's a bit biographical of Anthony Berkeley.

The trope is the costume party (with a murder theme) gone awry. Each guest is to be dressed as an historical murderer or victim. It gets confusing if you don't have a handy list of such historic facts. I had to look up a bunch of them, and then had to try to remember who was dressed as whom. But this is a typical problem with the "party" setting- a lot of characters to keep straight. One of the guests commits suicide, or does she?

#8 Panic Party/ Mr Pidgeon's Island (US title), 1934

I have not yet been able to find this book.

There are a number of short stories published post-humously.

Mystery Series - Melody Lane

alt text Lilian Garis
The Melody Lane mysteries were written from 1933-1940 by Lilian Garis. She and her husband Howard Garis are considered the most prolific writers of ficton for younger readers in the early 1900s. The Melody Lane books feature Carol Duncan, a high school girl, and other young people in "Melody Lane." The books are typically dramatic of the time period, but I like the characters. The writing style is a little "breathless," and may take a bit of getting used to. Garis herself was editing the women's page of a newspaper when she was yet in high school, so her own experiences probably influenced how grown-up these girls seem to be.

Recurring Characters of Note:
Carol Duncan
Cecy Duncan her younger sister

#1 The Ghost of Melody Lane, 1933
Carol Duncan is a high school girl caught in the depression like so many others. She lives with her father (her mother is dead), who is out of work, and her younger sister, Cecy. Carol has taken on the responsibility for bringing in some income by playing organ at the local movie theatre, but so many movies are beginning to have their own music that she loses even that job, and the book begins with her looking for another similar position. She is depressed, and goes to the home of her organ teacher, a friend, and retired actress, Katheryn Becket, fondly known as "Cousin Kitty."

Kitty lives in an old rambling mansion on Melody Lane. The estate was built years ago with a huge pipe organ built into the house. It is this organ which Carol plays to calm her tensions. However, the house has developed a reputation for being haunted, and a rumor that the organ is heard to play by itself. There is an odd young man (Stubby Flint) who pumps the organ when the power is out, and a rather suspicious old repairman who seems unlikely to be playing ghost, but he is certainly menacing. A German caretaker and wife live in the gatehouse, and their niece is currently living with them, having come over from Europe. She is not at all friendly, and efforts to contact her to enroll in school are even futile.

Meanwhile, Cousin Kitty, Carol and her friend Thalia (Thally) Bond, and Cecy all have experiences with seeing the "ghost." Then they have to catch it and find out what it means to preserve the value of the homes on Melody Lane.

#2 The Forbidden Trail, 1933
Carol Duncan is waylaid by the eccentric aunt of a young friend, Veronica Flint (sister of Stubby from book 1). Aunt Marah wants Carol to protect Veronica from following "the forbidden trail." That trail involves a family history of tragic loves and the secret of Veronica's father, an explorer who disappeared in the Arctic leaving Veronica with a cryptic message of valuables hidden in a cave.

The Duncans are now living in the gatehouse at Katheryn Becket's estate, since the caretaker and his family have gone back to Europe. Cecy is away at boarding school.

#3 The Tower Secret, 1934
The story opens with Carol and her friends being kind to some circus people who are traveling through town after the break-up of their act. The girls arrange for this family to stay at "Splatter Castle" (see book 2) to act as caretakers. Meanwhile Thalia Bond's family is moving to a large house with a tower on the property located on a point of land which juts into a lake. The tower has a reputation for being haunted; a round window high up in the tower sometimes winks like a huge eye.

Mary, one of the circus girls, leaves the group and goes off to marry her beau. The local concern of the summer is a case of corn borer, resulting in produce being stopped at state lines, and Mary's new husband is caught trying to take ears of corn across the border. Mary is overheard to say that she will "take care of those Bonds." But what does it mean? How could people new in town be connected with old rumors? When the girls also see the "eye" wink they search the tower, but find nothing.

Carol's good friend, Glenn, also does some searching and finds the solution.

#4 The Wild Warning, 1934
It is summer vacation and Carol's younger sister and their cousin, both of junior high school age have found what they consider to be a robber's cave hide-out. Carol discounts their story, believing their discovery to be a boys' play area. She is caught up in another strange affair at the local drugstore which is a substation for the Post Office. A registered package disappears while Carol is actually at the store. The only person they saw enter the building at that time is a very poor girl who is always eager to work for a few extra pennies. The sender of the package chooses not to press charges. But who took it, and why, and why is the beautiful young clerk so nervous?

#5 Terror at Moaning Cliff, 1935
Carol's father is out of town on business and their great aunt Isabel has written to the girls that she is going to come visit because she wants to talk to them in secret. Isabel asks them to take some of their friends and spend some weeks at a house she owns at the rocky seashore. It is hers by inheritance, but the will is rather odd in that she must either live there or put it to profitable use or she will lose the property to a distant cousin. She has tried to rent the place for years, but tenents never stay long, complaining of odd noises. The girls are asked to try to discover the secret of the old house.

The girls do go, and are aided in their quest by the boys, Glenn and Ted who are able to come visit occasionally on their time off from the nearby boys' camp where they work. A young couple, on vacation nearby, are aided by the girls when Barry takes a nasty fall. This new friendship with the young engineer proves to be the key to the puzzle.

This book had a lot of potential, but the girls were just totally out of character. They were flighty, frightened, and always looking to have a man around to help. Thus it just didn't seem consistent with the rest of the series.

#6 The Dragon Of The Hills, 1936
Carol is caught in a thunderstorm while driving home and seeks refuge at a house occupied by an old lady and her granddaughter, Priscilla. The woman does not like strangers. Carol goes on to a tearoom which turns out to be run by an old friend of hers. The tearoom is named "The Dragon of the Hills," and its colorful sign is attracting a lot of attention. The sign was painted by a Japanese friend of hers, and may have a deeper meaning that leads to problems for Carol's friend, Dorothy. The next night there is an intruder trying to get in the tearoom.

Meanwhile, Priscilla reports that someone was also trying to get in their house, and that her grandmother has died.

A salesman who had previously had an accident in front of Priscilla's home returns when he is released from the hospital looking for something valuable that is missing from his car.

The plot of this book is fun, but it does contain quite a few references that would be considered racial slurs in the present era. That said, there is not type-casting. For example, not all the Gypsies are bad people.

the mystery of stingyman's alley typical cover of the series

#7 The Mystery Of Stingyman's Alley, 1938
This book really changes the direction of the series. Carol is now out of school. They have moved to a city in New Jersey. In constrained finances, Carol and her father live in a modest brownstone house. Carol is the teacher in a day nursery in the factory district of the city. (Cecy is in the midwest with great aunt Isabel.)

This plot is much more adult and realistic than the previous books. The children in the school come from factory families who need day care for children who are too young for regular school, so the parents can work. One can get a good idea of the plight of poor children of that era. The nursery is about to be shut down because the society women who run it are having trouble raising enough money to keep it open.

Meanwhile, a toddler is abandoned in the care of the nursery, but then someone else tries to kidnap the child.

#8 The Secret of the Kashmir Shawl, 1939
Apparently readers did not want Carol to grow up, and the series shifts again, now to feature Carol's younger sister Cecy. Not wanting to be a drag on the family finances, Cecy takes her first summer job as a companion to an older lady. But this lady acts very strange in many ways. Some people from the Middle East are hounding her to return a kashmir shawl she bought in Egypt a year previous. One of her own servants seems to be in on this plot.

The woman, whom Cecy is to call Aunt Bessie, is determined to keep the shawl because she likes it and she paid for it and paid the customs duties, and she's not going to be deterred. But the "gang" is persistent with their threats.

There is a sub-plot involving another girl from a previous book.

#9 The Hermit of Proud Hill, 1940
This mystery is mostly solved by Cecy and her friend Kay Findlay. There is a dual theme throughout the book. One is a real estate scam in which many local people lost their homes during the difficult period of the 1930's. There is also a curious man who lives alone in a small shack on a hill. However, when they meet him he seems to be quite cultured, almost academic, not their conception of what a hermit should be at all.

Can the girls restore Kay's family home in the face of opposition from the mean caretaker of the land? The caretaker is trying to gain full ownership. Who is the strange hermit on Proud Hill?

#10 The Clue of the Crooked Key, planned as the next book, but never written

Friday, August 25, 2023

Mystery Series - Beverly Gray

alt text dust jacket of Beverly Gray, Senior
The Beverly Gray mysteries were written over the time period of 1933- 1955. It is a series of 25 books, similar to the Nancy Drew books, but the girls are college age and young adults. The first four books take Beverly Gray through Vernon college with Beverly Gray, Freshman, then Sophomore, Junior and Senior The author is Clair Blank, and the first four books were published when she was only 18, just out of high school. The series continued until her death in 1955.

#1 Beverly Gray, Freshman, 1933

#2 Beverly Gray, Sophomore, 1933

#3 Beverly Gray, Junior, 1933

#4 Beverly Gray, Senior, 1933
This story is definitely a period piece, and clearly written for girls. The emphasis is on the social aspects of college life, although I give it some credit for lines like, "I've so many plans and hopes for the future. I want a career. I wnat to do something-- I don't think I could be content if I settled down now and threw all those dreams aside." The mystery itself is a bit thin with a plot including the kidnapping of a classmate who has been hired to star in a motion picture.

The primary emphasis of the plot is the changes in the girl's relationships as the "movie star" becomes something of a snob. Graduation brings a bittersweet ending to the girls' "club." However, the book is well-written and fits into the genre and the time period well.

#5 Beverly Gray's Career, 1935

#6 Beverly Gray at the World's Fair, 1935

#7 Beverly Gray on a World Cruise, 1936

#8 Beverly Gray in the Orient, 1937

#9 Beverly Gray on a Treasure Hunt, 1938

#10 Beverly Gray's Return, 1940

#11 Beverly Gray, Reporter, 1940

#12 Beverly Gray's Romance, 1941

#13 Beverly Gray's Problem, 1943

#14 Beverly Gray's Quest, 1945

#15 Beverly Gray's Assignment, 1947

#16 Beverly Gray's Adventure, 1944

#17 Beverly Gray's Challenge, 1945

#18 Beverly Gray's Journey, 1946

#19 Beverly Gray's Mystery, 1948

#20 Beverly Gray's Vacation, 1949

#21 Beverly Gray's Fortune, 1950

#22 Beverly Gray's Secret, 1951

#23 Beverly Gray's Island Adventure, 1952

#24 Beverly Gray's Discovery, 1953

#25 Beverly Gray's Surprise, 1955
alt text Clair Blank

I found it extremelly interesting that the back cover of the "Senior" dust jacket advertizes the Judy Bolton mysteries. And even more interesting to me is the back flap has the seven Melody Lane mysteries, which are some of my favorites of the time period.