Detective

The Beckoning Lady by Margery Allingham

At the edge of the estate of The Beckoning Lady there lies a dead man. The timing couldn’t be worse as it is just before Minnie and Tonker Cassand’s big party. It’s a good thing that Albert Campion is a friend of the Cassands. Campion investigates while the preparations for the party of the year go on in full swing.

The Beckoning Lady by Margery Allingham was published in 1955. In the US the book was published under the title The Estate of the Beckoning Lady.

Starting smack in the middle of a series is never a good idea. The Beckoning Lady is the fifteenth novel in Allingham’s Albert Campion series. I know I am probably missing a lot of the background information. Besides I am not used to Allingham’s style of story telling. But I always read what I can find. When I found this book I decided to read it first of all because it fit in perfectly with my 2012 Vintage Mystery Challenge’s Golden Age Girls category. Secondly, the book synopsis intrigued me.

Margery Allingham’s writing style doesn’t suit me well. I found her writing kind of confusing. It was as if I were in a dream, where the people were speaking in a language I knew and yet I couldn’t understand them.

The plot felt thin and at the same time bewildering. All the details about tax, property, ominous little men, dead elderly relatives, sending signals through flower bouquets; etc, etc left me feeling bored and puzzled.

I didn’t enjoy the relationship between Minnie and Tonker Cassand. They fight a lot and their fights left me feeling irritated. Tonker is responsible for a lot of the trouble in Minnie’s life and to top it all off he beats her on more than one occasion. Now maybe beating your wife was okay back in the 50’s but I am still not okay with it.

The preparation for Tonker and Minnie’s extravagant party takes up most of the narrative, the details of which left me exhausted. Why must the party go on despite multiple deaths is beyond me.

The actual crime, criminal and the motive behind it left me feeling unsatisfied. After spending so many dreary days reading a rather disjointed narrative with characters I didn’t really care about the solution seemed inadequate.

The book’s conclusion is odd. People casually forging evidence and letting things slide is just a bit too much.

Overall, I didn’t enjoy my first Margery Allingham. The narrative was disjointed and the solution unsatisfactory. I don’t feel to eager to continue with the adventures of Albert Campion.

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Death And The Dancing Footman by Ngaio Marsh

Death And The Dancing Footman by Ngaio Marsh was published in 1942. It is the eleventh book in Marsh’s Inspector Roderick Alleyn series.

The mischievous owner of Highfold Manor has been busy planning the ultimate weekend party. He hopes to bring together a group of people who, at best, have an uneasy relationship with each other, then sit back and enjoy the fireworks. What he doesn’t know is that it’s going to be an extremely long weekend, a weekend no one will ever forget.

I enjoyed Death And The Dancing Footman much better than my last Marsh novel, Opening Night. The women in Death And The Dancing Footman are, for one, much less stupid. Also, the dialogues are much better.

Death And The Dancing Footman is set in Highfold Manor at Dorset. As the party is all assembled there a terrible storm starts, leaving the roads deep in snow and the mansion is totally cut off from civilization. I am very fond of cosy mysteries set in isolated places with no way out.  Christie’s And Then There Were None, Evil Under the Sun and Cyril Hare’s An English Murder come to mind. But somehow I didn’t enjoy the atmosphere of Highfold Manor as much as I should have.

The mystery is good. I suspected almost everyone by turns.

The narrative does go a bit slowly. I do get that they are stuck in a snowbound mansion in the middle of nowhere. But still the time between the beginning & the crime and from the crime to its solution feels like an eternity.

Among the characters I found Jonathan Royal to be really irritating. He is childish, selfish and even harmful at times. Why would anyone want to be his friend is beyond me. Aubrey Mandrake was another childish, whiny sort of character. All the members of the Compline family are uniformly bland.

Detective Roderick Alleyn doesn’t really do much. He shows up after more than half of the book is over. He asks a few questions and solves the thing pretty easily. I’m still not sure how he hit upon the solution to the mystery.

As I have mentioned earlier the women in this book are not stupid, which is a relief for me. Almost all of them are strong characters, whether good or evil. Although I was annoyed by everyone falling in love with Chloris Wynne just because she is blonde and beautiful. She does however admit that she is not a natural blonde, which made her more likeable.

I don’t like too much romance in my mystery. One of the romances did begin to annoy me mostly because of the man but the woman sort of redeemed it.

The ending was satisfying but I do have a few qualms about the character of the murderer. I feel that the motive behind the crime abruptly changes the character of the murderer. It doesn’t really make sense.

Even though I did have some problems with Death And The Dancing Footman, I overall enjoyed the book. It is a nice, satisfying cosy mystery.

Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie

Hercule Poirot and holidays never get on well together. Wherever Poirot goes death seems to stalk him. This time though it all may turn out differently. This secluded hotel called the Jolly Roger is very exclusive and entry to it is extremely restricted. Surely, all of its guests are safe against the outside world. But that wouldn’t matter because everywhere under the sun there is evil.

Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie was published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club in 1941 and in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company the same year.

Arlena Marshall is a strikingly attractive woman. She is a heartbreaker and men are drawn to her like moths to a flame. The vacationers at the Jolly Roger think that she’s up to her old tricks again. But when she turns up dead and the truth starts to be uncovered, it becomes apparent that things are not always what they seem.

I found the plot of Evil Under the Sun surprisingly similar to that of a Poirot short story called Triangle at Rhodes (1936). It also bears some resemblance to another Poirot novel, Death on the Nile (1937). Incidentally, one of the characters in Evil Under the Sun makes a reference to the case of Death on the Nile in one of the early chapters.

Among the characters I thought that the victim, Arlena Marshall, wasn’t properly fleshed out. We know what the others think of her but I don’t really get a sense of who she really was. Kenneth Marshall’s character I didn’t really understand or feel sympathetic towards. He’s a bit of a stuffed shirt. The character of Linda Marshall was poorly sketched.

I found the characters of Odell and Carrie Gardener funny, even if they were caricatures. I wish I could have learned more about the characters of Stephen Lane, Horace Blatt and Emily Brewster.

Like many other Christie mysteries this book has at least one recurring character in it. One of the official investigators in this case, Colonel Weston, had previously appeared in Peril at End House.

Agatha Christie did a wonderful job describing the hotel and its surrounding area. I had no problem picturing it in my mind. Once I started the book it was like I was transported right to the seaside resort, with its beach and overhanging cliffs.

With this mystery I totally had no clue about who the murderer is. I suspected everyone at one time or another. In the end there is no great twist to the solution of the mystery. Of course, there aren’t enough people or enough space for a real surprise. But the actual murder with its intricacy more than makes up for it. It is one of the more elaborately planned murders envisioned by Christie.

Evil Under the Sun is a very engaging mystery. Definitely recommended.

The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie

The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie gets its title from a verse by Omar Khayyám,

“The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,

Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit

Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,

Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”

The Moving Finger was first published in the US by Dodd, Mead and Company in 1942 and in UK by the Collins Crime Club in 1943.

A sudden spate of hate mail disturbs the peace of the little town of Lymstock. No body is willing to discuss it though until an inhabitant of the town commits suicide, apparently as a result of receiving one such letter.

The title of the book, The Moving Finger, is significant as the poison pen points his/her accusing finger towards the people of the town one after another through the letters.

One big grouse I have with The Moving Finger is the extremely late entry of Miss Marple. She comes in on the last 50 or so pages. It almost seems like she was added to the book sort of as an afterthought. But her appearance makes a difference for me at least. It manages to add a calming effect to the rather disturbing town of Lymstock. I’d very much prefer Lymstock with her as opposed to without her.

One thing that makes this book a good read for me is the appearance of Mrs. Dane Calthrop. Not many people may find her interesting but I do. Her abrupt way of coming and going from one place to another, the way she talks to people, the way people find her and conversations and observations alarming, makes her an unique creation. She appears in only one other Christie book,  The Pale Horse.

Christie gives the reader’s a chance to solve the mystery midway through the story. She gives us a few clues through the narrator Jerry Barton’s subconscious in one of the more intriguing scenes of the book. He fails to solve it but a clever reader may spot a thing or two.

I like the atmosphere of the story. On one hand I savoured the perpetually lazy feeling of holiday the story seems to have. But on the other hand the story also has a sinister undercurrent. The whole town seems to be wearing the mask of well mannered, gentle people. One is never quite sure what lurks beneath their benign surfaces.

Among the characters of the story, I liked Megan. She seemed to have more depth and a far more interesting character than many of the more beautiful and feminine but dumb as doll heroines I’ve come across in mystery fictions. I found the narrator of the story, Jerry Barton to be quite dull. He and his sister, who are prominent characters in the story, are not that interesting.

The identity of the killer is rather startling. The ruthlessness of the killer’s character is surprising considering his/her exterior. But it seems so plausible once Miss Marple explains all.

The Moving Finger does make an interesting read. The sense of evil under the appearance of serenity makes Lymstock an uncomfortable place to visit, even if one does so only in one’s imagination.

The Old Man in the Corner by Baroness Orczy

Today Baroness Orczy is mostly remembered as the creator of the Scarlet Pimpernel but she also wrote quite a few mysteries. The Old Man in the Corner (1909) is possibly the best known among her mysteries.

Polly Burton, a young reporter, encounters a strange old man at a tea shop. He offers simple solutions to the most perplexing of unsolved mysteries. All the while the man toys with a piece of string, making knots and unravelling them. Annoyed by the man’s smugness but at the same time fascinated by his solutions Miss Burton keeps visiting the tea shop, as a new mystery is unravelled each time.

I had read The Fenchurch Street Mystery a long time ago in a mystery anthology. I wasn’t much impressed with it as I found it kind of dull. As a collection, Baroness Orczy’s mysteries, with an interconnecting central narrative, work better.

The Old Man in the Corner contains twelve short mysteries, The Fenchurch Street Mystery, The Robbery in Phillimore Terrace, The York Mystery, The Mysterious Death on the Underground Railway, The Liverpool Mystery, The Edinburgh Mystery, The Theft at the English Provident Bank, The Dublin Mystery, An Unparalleled Outrage, The Regent’s Park Murder, The de Genneville Peerage and The Mysterious Death in Percy Street.

Most of the mysteries are easy to figure out once you’ve read the first few stories. After a while I managed to pin point the culprit pretty easily. I read on only to find out how they did it.

Many of these mysteries are rather twisted. I say twisted because none of the criminals are caught or punished by the authorities. The eponymous old man’s sympathies lie mostly with the criminals and he shows unconcealed delight as the criminals get away with their crimes. Also, there is something gruesome about many of the stories. For example, the murders in The Fenchurch Street Mystery, The Dublin Mystery and The de Genneville Peerage. Some of the perpetrators, like those in The York Mystery and The Edinburgh Mystery, are abnormal people with a warped view of love and loyalty.

Among the stories The Fenchurch Street Mystery, The York Mystery, The Mysterious Death on the Underground Railway, The Edinburgh Mystery, The Theft at the English Provident Bank, The Dublin Mystery and The de Genneville Peerage are pretty good. Mysteries like The Robbery in Phillimore Terrace, The Liverpool Mystery, An Unparalleled Outrage and The Regent’s Park Murder are pretty bland. The last story, The Mysterious Death in Percy Street, left me surprised.

The end of the central narrative left me fairly shocked. I really didn’t see this coming.

Overall, I enjoyed The Old Man in the Corner. I would definitely want to read more of Baroness Orczy’s mysteries.

(This review is offered as a part of Friday’s Forgotten Books meme. Check out what other reviews are up at pattinase.)