One of the lecture topics I chose for my recent talks on board Queen Mary 2 was "cruise mysteries". And the more I researched the subject, the more examples I found of such novels. Quite a few of them will feature as Forgotten Books over the coming months. There are plenty of enjoyable titles from the past where writers have made excellent use of cruise ships as a background for murder mysteries. The "closed community" on board ship makes for an atmospheric setting.
Then again, and perhaps inevitably, I did encounter a few disappointments. On this blog, I like to focus on books I've enjoyed, rather than the misfires, but if anyone thinks I am besotted with all classic mysteries, regardless, perhaps this post will alter that view! There were four books which didn't really do it for me, alas. Each of them had some redeeming features, but not enough for me to want to devote a whole "Forgotten Book" post to them. So here's a round-up - and of course, feel free to disagree...
One of the disappointments was The Blind Barber by John Dickson Carr. It's a Gideon Fell mystery, first published in 1934, and featuring an Atlantic crossing from New York to Southampton. I was really looking forward to reading this one, which had previously eluded me. But I have to say that, despite my enthusiasm for both Carr and Fell, this book disappointed me. It's really an armchair detective story, with Fell told about misadventures on board ship by his friend, the mystery writer Henry Morgan. The story is, really, a farce, and the humour hasn't worn particularly well.
I was also optimistic about Robin Forsythe's The Pleasure Cruise Mystery. Once very obscure, it's an example of Dean Street Press's admirable commitment to reprinting forgotten mysteries. The story features Algernon Vereker, and it's quite well and amusingly written, especially in the early stages. But the plot simply didn't capture my interest. I shall definitely give Forstyhe another go, but this was a rather discouraging introduction to his work.
K.K. Beck was a prolific writer of cozy-type mysteries in the later years of the twentieth century. I read her Death in a Deck Chair, set in the Golden Age, and it's a competent piece of light (very light) entertainment, but the involvement in the storyline of one of those Ruritanian-style countries so beloved of minor GA writers put me off.
Finally, Nancy Spain's Not Wanted on Voyage. There's a nice plan of the cruise ship at the start of my copy, but the story didn't appeal to me. In real life, Nancy was a fascinating character, as her biography and autobiography make clear, but her speciality as a detective novelist was humour, and I found the facetiousness of this one simply too much. I'm afraid the title is all too accurate; I still haven't finished it..