The Red Lamp

The Red LampThe Red Lamp
by Mary Roberts Rinehart
Rating: ★★★★½
Publication Date: June 18, 2019
Pages: 289
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Penzler Publishing

William Porter has just inherited Twin Hollows, an isolated lakeside estate shrouded in mystery and doom. But William and his wife aren't easily swayed by ghost stories and whispered rumors. Until a shadowy apparition beckons to them from the undying glow of a red lamp. Is a stranger with a deadly purpose trying to frighten them away? Or are they being haunted by a chilling warning from the grave?


I knew this was a ghost story, of sorts, so I started it bright and early yesterday morning, and became so engrossed in the story that I almost, almost, finished it last night. leaving nothing but 3 of the last 4 conclusion chapters for me to read today.

Mary Roberts Rinehart was an excellent writer; that her genius has been so far forgotten today is a tragedy.  The Red Lamp was originally written in 1925, and putting aside the lack of technology and the beautifully elegant writing that today might be considered a tad verbose, the story holds up perfectly; it would take very little to make this story ‘modern’.

The Red Lamp is complex to the point of labyrinthine though.  Like the main character, I stumbled through the story in ignorance.  Some of this was by design, as the mc is meant to be a spectator not an active participant in solving the crimes, but some of it was because there was just so much going on and that beautifully elegant writing of Rinehart’s made for easy camouflage of any clues.

The book is, with the exception of the introductory and final 4 chapters, purely epistemological, with no chapters, just journal entries.  This style doesn’t always lend itself to a submersive experience for the reader, but these journal entries are detailed enough that it makes almost no difference from a first person narrative.

The ghostly part of the story, in spite of the enormous potential for scarring the spit out of me, were subdued enough that they never raised so much as a hair.  This was a wee bit disappointing, I admit, but it didn’t adversely affect the story; they were never the point of the book, it was always about the mysterious killings and there was never doubt that those killings were done by a very corporeal being.

All in all, this was an excellent mystery.  I’d recommend this to anyone curious about Golden Age Mysteries who might be hesitant fearing dry or dated story-telling.  While not perfect, The Red Lamp is most assuredly neither dry nor dated.

I read this for the Gothic square on my Halloween Bingo 2020 card.

Murder at the Manor: Country House Mysteries

Murder at the ManorMurder at the Manor
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 9780712309936
Publication Date: February 1, 2016
Pages: 384
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: The British Library

I read two stories from this anthology:  Gentleman and Players and The White Pillars Murder.  Both, it seems, stories I’ve already read elsewhere.  Luckily I only remembered enough to recognise I’d read them before, not enough to remember how they end.

Gentleman and Players is a Raffles short story deeply embedded in a country house cricket competition and is less a mystery than an adventure sort of story.  Mildly entertaining.

The White Pillars Murder is a G.K. Chesterton short mystery and it’s definitely a mystery, but the ending is beyond bizarre, and feels a bit like Chesterton is burning a bridge of sorts.  A bit preachy too. Not a fan.

I read these for the Country House Mystery square on my Halloween Bingo 2020 card.  Hopefully next time I pick up this book, I’ll remember I’ve already read these two stories.

Capital Crimes: London Mysteries

Capital Crimes: London MysteriesCapital Crimes: London Mysteries
by Martin Edwards
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9780712357494
Publication Date: March 12, 2015
Pages: 319
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Publisher: The British Library

Capital Crimes is an eclectic collection of London-based crime stories, blending the familiar with the unexpected in a way that reflects the personality of the city. Alongside classics by Margery Allingham, Anthony Berkeley and Thomas Burke are excellent and unusual stories by authors who are far less well known.

The stories give a flavour of how writers have tackled crime in London over the span of more than half a century. Their contributions range from an early serial-killer thriller set on the London Underground and horrific vignettes to cerebral whodunits. What they have in common is an atmospheric London setting, and enduring value as entertainment. Each story is introduced by the editor, Martin Edwards, who sheds light on the authors' lives and the background to their writing.


 

I’ve had this anthology on my shelves for a few years, always waiting.  Well, this year I needed to read a mystery set in London for 2020 Halloween Bingo and I finally remembered I had this wonderful stash of stories all in one spot.

For this year’s bingo, I chose – of course – Conan Doyle’s The Case of Lady Sannox.  This is not a Sherlock Holmes story, in spite of the title, and it’s closer to horror than mystery.  It’s also classic Conan Doyle style.  As such, I guessed the twist at one point, when I read a specific sentence that reminded me of Holmes:

View Spoiler »

Don’t ask me why, but with that sentence I knew how the story would end.  And I was right, and it was horrifying.  Darkest London, indeed.

A Sprig of Sea Lavender

A Sprig of Sea LavenderA Sprig of Sea Lavender
by J.R.L. Anderson
Rating: ★★★
isbn: 312753772
Publication Date: January 1, 1978
Pages: 176
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

I bought this a few years ago, when Otto Penzler was selling his collection through his bookshop, Mysterious Books.  It’s a review copy of an author I’d never heard of, but the short catalog blurb made it sound interesting: mysterious death on a train, unknown works by Gainsborough, Turner and Constable found with the body, along with a  sprig of – you guessed it – sea lavender.

This is a mid-century mystery, and it suffered from the usual quirks of that age:  instant, yet chaste, romance, and a complete disregard of the fair-play rules of mystery plotting.  As such, the reader, by the end, is presented with a fait accompli in both the romance and the mystery’s resolution, without having any idea whatsoever how the main character got there, although he does explain it all at the very end.

By today’s standards, it’s all a bit thin, naive and 2 dimensional, but I had fun with it nevertheless.  It wasn’t trying to be anything other than an entertaining mystery and, while I’ve read others that are greater successes, it generally achieved its goal.

Stick Together (Awkward Squad, #2)

Stick TogetherStick Together
by Sam Gordon, Sophie Hénaff
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 9781635060157
Series: Awkward Squad #2
Publication Date: April 2, 2019
Pages: 299
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: MacLehose Press

I can’t remember how I discovered the first book in this series, The Awkward Squad, but I thoroughly enjoyed it; it felt fresh and it amused me, and I chalked up any small irritations to the translation from the French.

This second book was much the same, although there were more straight-up translation issues this time; errors that should have been caught in editing – like saying the ‘France people’ instead of the ‘French People’ in one spot.  And a few things were just cultural references I didn’t understand, not being French myself.  Glossing over them didn’t affect my understanding of the plot or the mystery, though undoubtedly I missed a layer of enjoyment.

The series focuses on a department of the police judiciaire, which was occasionally referred to as PJs, which made me giggle more than it should have.  This department was created as a repository for all the misfits that couldn’t be fired; they were established in an old office building offsite with all the cold case files that have never been solved, and then left to fend for themselves.

I didn’t expect this to work as well as it does, but I enjoy reading about the individual misfits and how their odd contributions further the pursuit of criminals and solve cases.  It’s far-fetched, sure, but it never feels silly or slapstick, somehow.

It’s not perfect, but it’s highly enjoyable, and I sincerely hope the author continues to write more in the series, and that they continue to be translated into English.

The Man that Got Away (Constable Twitten Mystery, #2)

The Man That Got AwayThe Man That Got Away
by Lynne Truss
Rating: ★★★★
isbn: 1408890534
Series: Constable Twitten Mystery #2
Publication Date: September 17, 2019
Pages: 304
Genre: Mystery
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing

I’m not an expert, but to me this book and its predecessor is just quintessentially English.  I’ve been a fan of Truss’ non-fiction for years, and always found her writing and wit excellent, and I genuinely enjoyed her first Constable Twitten book A Shot in the Dark. So I snapped up this sequel as soon as I heard about it.

If you’ve ever watched Yes, Minster, or Black Adder, or even Benny Hill, and laughed, you may enjoy this mystery series.  But you absolutely have to suspend disbelief because there’s a lot of silliness and dry mockery; the reward is not only the chance to be amused in a time of little amusement, but an impressive, intricately plotted mystery.  There were so many balls in the air, and Truss kept them all up there without any apparent effort or stumbling.  It started slow for me, but it gained momentum as this complexity revealed itself.

A lot of fun and I remain a big fan of Truss.

Crocodile on the Sandbank (Amelia Peabody #1) Audio

Ms. Peters is a master, there is no doubt about it. An excellent story, very well written, but I tend to prefer her Vicky Bliss books over Ms. Peabody. Still, I enjoyed the audiobook enough to buy the next one in the series. The narration was outstanding, although the narrator made Evelyn such a whispery girl I wanted to smack her. Still, if you like audiobooks and you’re looking for a good old fashioned traditional mystery, I can recommend this one as worth the time.